Andy Bockelman: 'Love Happens' is a lackluster love story

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'Love Happens'

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

Running time: 109 minutes

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Aniston and Martin Sheen

Not many great romances start with one person pretending to be deaf and the other flipping them off in retaliation.

But, just when you least expect it, "Love Happens."

Motivational speaker Burke Ryan (Aaron Eckhart) has managed to turn lemons into lemonade. At least on the surface.

Following the death of his wife, he's helped thousands of people with his guide to grieving, titled "A-Okay!" Combined with intensive personal seminars, his rise to the top of the self-help industry is all but unstoppable.

Sadly, he doesn't believe a word of his own advice, and his depression is noticeable even to his manager (Dan Fogler).

During a workshop in Seattle, Burke bumps into Eloise (Jennifer Aniston), a florist with whom he feels a spark. She also feels an attraction to him, but with her dating history, she's a little hesitant to get with a man who'll only be in town for a few days.

But her hesitance is nothing compared to both his guilt about trying to move on and his inability to communicate with his late wife's family, who live in Seattle.

Eckhart's fresh-faced look certainly appears comforting when he's wearing a plastic smile on the cover of a hardback. But the actor doesn't bare himself quite as much as he should when the time comes.

Sure, he wavers between despondency and easygoing amusement, but aside from pounding down glasses of vodka, he takes a while showing us how emotionally damaged Burke really is.

Aniston's presence is less demanding, and therefore, easier to take as she once again plays the cautious love interest role she's perfected in "Along Came Polly," "Friends with Money" and "The Good Girl."

Fogler surprises a bit as Burke's sympathetic manager Lane - not so much because his character is well-crafted or anything like that, but who expects a Public Relations agent to have a conscience? Judy Greer is acceptably off-putting as Eloise's co-worker, Marty, a slam poet who, of course, knows what's best for her friend.

Martin Sheen is more convincing as Burke's father-in-law, who only wants him to be truthful about his struggles. John Carroll Lynch also has a few sincere moments as a hard sell at Burke's latest seminar, reminding the audience that this is supposed to be a movie about a man coping with loss.

There's an odd mixture of romance and melancholy at work here, resulting in a weak tonic that can't make up for its overall blandness with some droplets of truth. The rainy Seattle setting keeps the tone pessimistic with a constant air of grayness that never seems to lift.

This works well in the beginning as we see Burke deep in the doldrums, but this atmosphere isn't used to its greatest effectiveness as the story continues. A late night lovers' stroll through the city becomes a chance for Burke and Eloise to open up to each other, and where do they inevitably end up?

The cemetery where his wife is buried. Fun fact: This also is the same resting place for Bruce Lee and his son, Brandon.

The film brings on the heavy emotion too soon and plateaus, leaving a huge lag as it builds up to its climax. What little laughs there are to be had in this hang time are overcome by the uncomfortable feeling that somebody's about to break down weeping.

If everything weren't so jumbled together, it might connect on a humorous level or one of tenderness, but one never overcomes the other.

The muddled ambiance of "Love Happens" makes it barely worth viewing, but it's hardly a terrible movie.

If you recognize the definition of "quidnunc" - and by the time the lights come up, you will - it might be worth your time at least in terms of random highbrow vocabulary.

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