What happens when Manic Pixie Dream Girls grow up? Judging from the romantic drama Love Happens, they apparently get a little more mature (or maybe a little more medicated), but they still can’t stop being fizzy quirk-pots who live to brighten up the lives of mopey, sensitive men. Jennifer Aniston doesn’t entirely fit the MPDG mold in Love Happens—she does have small fragments of her own life, including a seemingly successful florist shop and a briefly seen ex-boyfriend who made her chary about living and loving again—but her brisk flightiness and her habit of cheering up potential partner Aaron Eckhart via precious little quests and wacky adventures does play tediously into the all-too-familiar Manic Pixie mode.
But that’s far from the only familiar thing about Love Happens, an occasionally poignant but far too dutiful rom-com-dram where half the shots and sequences come from a familiar playbook. Eckhart is thoroughly sincere and charming as a self-help guru who’s made a profitable career out of hiding his agonized guilt over his wife’s death so well that other victims of life flock to hear his words of wisdom. He’s a salesman, a slick fast-talker peddling the emotional salvation he can’t offer himself. After he spots Aniston and they run through the well-worn “first they hate each other, then they love each other” routine, they briefly connect, but once she gets close enough to see through the chinks in his armor, he has to finally deal with everything he’s hiding under there.
First-time director Brandon Camp and his co-scripter (and John Doe creator-writer-producer partner) Mike Thompson play it safe by sticking to the Film 101 playbook: There’s the contractual establishing shot zooming into Seattle from across the water, the obligatory scene of Eckhart tearfully watching old videos of his wife, a by-the-numbers “exploring offbeat Seattle” montage, a little necessary tone-setting banter between Aniston and her employee Judy Greer, and a bunch of hugging and weeping once the floodgates open. The film contains almost no rough edges; thanks to decades of previous use, just about every shot and sequence is as polished as a riverbed stone. Which makes the film go down easy enough, for those who bother—which is to say, either those who haven’t seen enough films to anticipate every moment of this one from the trailer, or those for whom such films are deliciously bland comfort food.