Like Yesterday's Psychobabble, 'Love Happens'

Eloise (Jennifer Aniston) and Burke (Aaron Eckhardt) in 'Love Happens'

Can I Help You With Your Baggage? Eloise (Jennifer Aniston) is a florist with a history of bad relationships, and Burke (Aaron Eckhart) is a self-help grief guru still mourning the loss of his wife. And yet: Love Happens. Kimberley French/Universal Studios hide caption

itoggle caption Kimberley French/Universal Studios

Love Happens

  • Director: Brandon Camp
  • Genre: Pop-psych Dramedy
  • Running Time: 109 minutes

Rated PG-13: Talk of sex and death

With: Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Aniston, Martin Sheen

What's mustier than yesterday's psychobabble? Yesteryear's psychobabble, which is what the misleadingly titled Love Happens offers in place of, well, love.

Co-writer Brandon Camp's lackluster directorial debut runs a three-legged race between psychological melodrama and romantic comedy. The movie was shelved for about a year, but it feels older than that. The thing even has firewalking!

The problems begin with the casting of Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight's Two-Face, whose grin is always more believable when it conceals menace. Here, he plays Burke Ryan, a well-meaning phony who has turned his wife's death into an industry.

The author of a self-help best-seller, Burke conducts seminars wherein he forces participants to confront their grief over the loss of spouses, parents and children. The agenda includes encounter sessions and walking on hot coals.

It's a scenario that relies on several unsurprising surprises, and here's the first one: Although Burke is as frisky as Dr. Phil on ecstasy, he hasn't actually confronted his own grief about his wife's fatal car crash.

Burke will have his breakthrough after he's booked to heal sorrows in his wife's hometown of Seattle. There, he reawakens to the possibilities of romance by literally bumping into local florist Eloise Chandler (Jennifer Aniston, still suffering one of the most hapless movie careers of any candidate for America's sweetheart).

Aside from being pretty, Eloise has but two character traits: She distrusts men (because her boyfriend cheats) and is strenuously zany. How zany? She likes to scrawl obscure words like "quidnunc" behind paintings on the walls of the Seattle Hyatt. (This is, of course, the hotel hosting Burke's seminar.) And when she invites Burke to an outdoor Rogue Wave concert, she borrows an electric-company truck with a pneumatic crane, so they can watch from beyond the fence.

Oh, and Eloise also wears very tight jeans.

Love Happens doesn't waste any time pretending that the florist and the grief guru actually have chemistry. Eloise is just sort of there, being empathetic and waiting patiently for the climactic smooch that will follow Burke's atonement to his father-in-law (Martin Sheen), his wife's cockatiel and himself.

Eloise (Jennifer Aniston) and Burke (Aaron Eckhardt) in 'Love Happens' i i

Late Bloomers? "My life is an experiment in really bad decisions," Eloise tells Burke, before adding, "You're really messed up." Kimberley French/Universal Studios hide caption

itoggle caption Kimberley French/Universal Studios
Eloise (Jennifer Aniston) and Burke (Aaron Eckhardt) in 'Love Happens'

Late Bloomers? "My life is an experiment in really bad decisions," Eloise tells Burke, before adding, "You're really messed up."

Kimberley French/Universal Studios

Yeah, there's another surprise coming, and it's almost as obvious as the Space Needle, which appears in dozens of shots. You can't miss the moment of discovery — it's greeted with an on-screen ovation, which is just about the laziest possible way for a filmmaker to cue the audience that his protagonist has done something good.

The third movie in as many months about a self-help author whose own life is a wreck, Love Happens is dumber than either Answer Man or Shrink, neither of which were especially sharp. All three weakly suggest that the answer to an existential crisis is a new girlfriend.

If that's the best Hollywood screenwriters can do, maybe they should sign up for a self-help seminar. Nothing focuses the mind like a little firewalking.

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