Love Happens is the new Jennifer Aniston movie and, as it happens, her fourth to hit theaters in the past 10 months. This time she plays Eloise, a Seattle florist who drives a quirky van and wears cunning hats. As per usual, Aniston has bountiful hair and a fretful mouth and is available for love. The object of her tepid affection is Burke (Aaron Eckhart), the best-selling author of a self-help book called A-Okay!. Burke has specialized in trying to cajole others out of grief since his wife died in a car accident three years before, but he is living a lie, because he is not A-O.K.
But enough about them. We know they're going to get together, despite the heat between them topping out at about 56° (Fahrenheit, sadly), but we never get vested in the romance. Eckhart's best moments are the ones in which we see Burke psyching himself up to glad-hand his fans. But problematically, even after we've seen the "real" Burke, the snake-oil salesman with the sharky grin is more convincing. So it's far more satisfying to focus on the supporting actors, the people who try their hardest to make this cutely maudlin movie bearable.
Martin Sheen has only four short scenes two of them seconds long and conducted opposite a fluffy white parrot (who had me at "Hello") yet still leaves a vivid impression. He plays Burke's former father-in-law Silver, a retired Marine who is handling his grief in the most productive way possible: by showing up at the Seattle hotel where one of Burke's multiday seminars for the bereft is under way, to remind him that a) he, Silver, is not A-O.K., b) he thinks Burke shouldn't be either and, finally, c) just because Martin Sheen reveals his teeth doesn't mean he's smiling at you. After this scene I sat up, jotted down "thrown for a loop" in my notebook and commenced hoping he'd come back.
During that long wait, I focused on the woefully underappreciated actor John Carroll Lynch. You might remember him from Fargo, in which he played Marge Gunderson's husband Norm, or Things We Lost in the Fire, in which he gave a compellingly tender and pleasingly peculiar performance as Halle Berry's neighbor. Love Happens is not his best work that would probably be his chilling performance in Zodiac as the prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen but it's still pretty fine. Lynch has been working steadily since 1993, which was right about the time of Eckhart's first screen credit, but he, unlike Eckhart, never become a star. (There may be an issue involving a lack of hair. On his head.) Here Lynch plays Walter, a contractor from Billings, who drove all the way to Seattle for Burke's hokey seminar and, a few hours in, sensibly wants his money back. Burke has to practice some serious self-help voodoo to keep skeptical Walter on the hook, but eventually (it's an interminable seminar) he gets Walter to pull a photo of his 12-year-old son out of his wallet and recount the story of his death. At which point I wrote "almost cried" in my notebook.
No mainstream movie about coping with grief would be complete without some comic relief, or at least that's what the studio presumably told the screenwriters, Mike Thompson and Brandon Camp, who also directed. To that end, we have Judy Greer and Dan Fogler. Greer has made a career of playing the wry best friend (27 Dresses, 13 Going on 30, The Wedding Planner). She plays Marty, a poetess, flower arranger and dispenser of advice to Eloise, and as usual, she's cute, funny and charming enough to be able to recite a poem featuring a phallus without making you hate her. Fogler plays Burke's manager Lane. Lane is plump, sweaty and initially seems so eager to cash in on Burke's burgeoning celebrity that we assume we're watching a young Ari Gold (without Ari's personal trainer). But Fogler, who had a gleeful part as the head of a absurd theater troupe in Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock, conveys a genuine concern for Burke, and we grow fond of him as well. Love never happens in this movie, but at least there's some liking here and there.