Does art imitate life or does life imitate art? It’s hard to tell with Jennifer Aniston’s wretched new romantic drama which is almost as disastrous as the tabloids’ chronicles of her off-screen, unlucky-in-love life. Why draw the obvious similarity? Because of her friend’s (Judy Greer) wry observation: “You tend to fall for these guys with expiration dates right on their foreheads.”
This time, it’s self-help author/psychologist Dr. Burke Ryan (Aaron Eckhart), who arrives in Seattle to teach an “A-OK! A Path Through Grief” seminar and, literally, bumps into expressionless Eloise Chandler (Aniston), a floral designer, in the hallway of the hotel where he’s speaking. Burke’s conflicted back story is that he lost his wife in a car accident three years earlier and has since become a self-proclaimed ‘expert’ on sorrow. Except that he hasn’t healed himself. Nevertheless, in a grotesquely maudlin manner, he deals with an assortment of mourners, including a widow who baked her husband’s ashes into cookies and a skeptical father/contractor (John Carroll Lynch) whose 12 year-old son snapped his spine working on his construction site, urging them and other attendees to walk barefoot over hot coals. Plus, there’s a subplot in which Burke’s best friend/agent Lane (Dan Fogler) tries to get him a network deal. Eventually, Burke makes peace with his tough-guy father-in-law (Martin Sheen), a retired Marine.
Formerly titled “Traveling” and “Brand New Day,” it’s chock full of clichés co-written by Mike Thompson and debut director Brandon Camp, whose father, Joe Camp, created the “Benji” dog movies in the 1970s. Yet in a bizarre twist, screenwriters Greg Crowder and Tony Freitas are also claiming credit for this turkey, even trying to block the film’s release. Wearing an assortment of kooky hats, Aniston trades on her quirky, “Friends”-honed likeability, while Eckhart (“Thank You for Smoking,” “In the Company of Men”) vainly strives for veracity. Yet, between them, there is zero romantic chemistry. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Love Happens” is a tiresome 2. Face it, when you use that title, you’re just asking for trouble.