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Dr. Burke (Aaron Eckhart) isn’t what he appears to Eloise (Jennifer Aniston)

Kimberley French

2 out of 4 stars


Love Happens

  • Directed by Brandon Camp
  • Written by Brandon Camp and Mike Thompson
  • Starring Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Aniston, Dan Fogler, Judy Greer, Frances Conroy and Martin Sheen
  • Classification: PG

In her new film, Jennifer Aniston plays a scarf-wearing florist named Eloise who falls for a widower with enough baggage to fill a DC-8.

Eloise? Woolly scarves? Shady widowers? It's hard to believe, but the green-eyed sprite we knew as Rachel Green, our TV best Friend from 1994-2004, is settling into spinsterhood.

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Aaron Eckhart is the dubious catch here, a Dr. Phil type with a lucrative product line - books, CDs, vitamins - labelled "A-Okay!" The only problem is that the self-help guru is a helpless liar. Handsome Burke Ryan, PhD, the expert who teaches everyone how to deal with tragedy, never even went to his own wife's funeral.

A duplicitous doc would seem to be meant for Aniston, an actress whose well-publicized personal life is spelled out in her movie titles - The Good Girl,The Break Up , Rumor Has It , Derailed . In Love Happens , Eloise's best friend Marty (Judy Greer) might be referring to Aniston's past in telling her: "You tend to fall for the guys with expiration dates on their foreheads."

Of course, romantic comedies, like middle-aged love, are blind to character flaws and expiration dates. Sure enough, Eloise and Dr. Burke meet cutely - physically bumping into each other in a hotel corridor. He helps her pick up her things. Soon they're drinking coffee and drinking in each other's eyes.

Love happens for them, sure; it's in the script. But how about us? Do we fall in love with Eloise and Burke? The answer, as you may have guessed, is: her, yes; him, ainnh.

Aniston has the screen empathy gene. Her film characters are game for life and laugh easily, especially at themselves. But it is the sadness that lingers in her eyes that touches us. Everyone, screenwriters included, are interested in her.

The writer-director of Love Happens , Brandon Camp, provides Aniston with intriguing quirks. Eloise is the kind of florist who finds folk poetry in messages that come with flowers. She collects well-struck sentiments. She also scrawls silly provocations behind paintings in hotel corridors - flirtatious invitations to some unknown adventurer who might strive to find her.

That turns out to be Dr. Burke. Eckhart has top billing and most of the screen time, and there are plenty of scenes intended to suggest he's a swell, sensitive guy with problems.

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Nevertheless, we get the nagging sense that Eckhart hasn't really evolved, to use a Dr. Burke word, from the self-absorbed schmuck he was in Thank You for Smoking , where he played a conscience-free tobacco lobbyist. Oh, filmmaker Camp has added a dash of meat tenderizer; Eckhart smiles more and works hard at listening. Still, there he is giving his self-help workshop group - men and women who have lost loved ones - $2 truth candles to help illuminate their problems.

Eckhart's con-man was a lot of fun in Thank You for Smoking . But we were always in on the swindle. Here, we're being asked to cheer for a guy we suspect is trouble. We feel like we're being conned, too.

Another problem with Love Happens is the company that Eloise and Dr. Burke keep. Just as we measure Bond movies by their villains, we judge romantic comedies by the supporting cast. (Think of the flavourful eccentrics who littered Hepburn and Tracy comedies.) Burke's curly-topped agent (Dan Fogler) and Eloise's poetry-slamming friend (Greer) don't have much to do except follow their friends around and fret. The lone belly laugh from the minor players is supplied by a parrot named Rocky that can impersonate a fire alarm while doing the Lindy Hop.

Aniston's constituency will enjoy seeing her again in Love Happens . She's lovely and fun to be with, as always. But him? They probably think her new fella is iffy. They'd be right. Hang in there Jen. You can do better.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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