Jennifer Aniston busts out her dramatic chops playing emotional support to Aaron Eckhart in Love Happens, a romantic drama about how one person’s experience of grief can rehabilitate another when we least expect it. The movie, released in 2009, was just added to Netflix.
Aaron Eckhart plays Burke Ryan, a self-help therapist whose wife perished in a car accident. Unable to cope, he publishes a bestselling book on finding peace following the death of a loved one and holds grief seminars across the country. Jennifer Aniston plays Eloise Chandler, a well-intentioned florist with a knack for meeting bad men. The two have an engaging first meeting and are immediately smitten. Eloise is prepared for more, but Burke is still processing his grief. His bombastic approach to grief counseling is hiding an onerous secret: Burke is more involved in his wife’s accident than he’s letting on, and it’s driving a wedge between himself and Eloise. The guilt inevitably consumes and paralyzes him. With the help of Burke’s father-in-law, Eloise encourages the conscience-stricken widower to practice what he’s always preached: to forgive himself, wipe the slate clean, and find the courage to start over. It’s like Tony Stark said in Avengers: Endgame: “Part of the journey is the end.”
Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston’s Love Happens is a pensive but gratifying take on the reality of loss, in that there is no timetable to moving on and everyone’s journey is paced differently. As Eckhart’s Burke so disastrously proves, a person’s experience of grief and subsequent expression of mourning needn’t always be the same. Burke Ryan grieved by burying his feelings. His wife’s passing devolved into a party trick, a way to justify his current profession to his tens and thousands of fans and clients desperately hanging on to his every word. He mourned by living a lie and pretending to be someone he wasn’t.
Jennifer Aniston’s Eloise was a wake-up call for Burke to do better. He was coasting through life on what seemed to him like borrowed time — especially given the circumstances of his wife’s death — and he couldn’t bear to face himself. Burke’s father-in-law nagged him every step of the way, but he wouldn’t listen; Eloise Chandler was the push he needed to finally make the crucial next step. And only then could both Burke and Eloise find the space in their hearts to accommodate each other. The film ends on a sportively saccharine note, a welcome reprieve from almost two hours of what basically amounted to extended grief counseling.
Originally titled Brand New Day — and later, Traveling — Love Happens was written by Mike Thompson and Brandon Camp, with the latter directing. It also starred Frances Conroy as Eloise’s mother Ella, Martin Sheen as Burke’s unnamed father-in-law, Judy Greer as Eloise’s friend Marty, Dan Fogler as Burke’s manager Lane Marshall, Joe Anderson as Eloise’s ex-boyfriend Tyler, and John Carroll Lynch as Burke’s unwilling client Walter. The film cleverly referenced Jennifer Aniston’s time playing Rachel Green in Friends. Eloise Chandler shares the same name as Matthew Perry’s Chandler Bing. There’s a fictitious flower in Eloise’s shop called phalangeum, likely inspired by Phoebe Buffay’s alias Regina Phalange. Sasha Alexander, who played a journalist opposite Matt LeBlanc’s Joey Tribbiani in Friends, played a cameo role as a photographer in Love Happens.
The Jennifer Aniston film received lukewarm reviews from critics but made twice its budget in the box office with a revenue of over $36 million. Love Happens was notably executive produced by Scott Stuber, the current head of Netflix Original Films. Stuber produced Little Evil starring Adam Scott and Evangeline Lilly and the live-action adaptation of Gerard Way’s The Umbrella Academy.
Jennifer Aniston has greatly expanded her resume since appearing in Brandon Camp’s Love Happens. She has since ventured into rated-R territory with raunchy comedies such as Horrible Bosses and We’re The Millers, playing sexually-charged dentist Dr. Julia Harris and a stripper codenamed Rose, respectively. She’s also been in a handful of action movies, notably The Bounty Hunter with Gerard Butler, Daniel Schechter’s Life of Crime, and the war film The Yellow Birds. She was last seen playing murder mystery-loving wife to Adam Sandler’s disgraced police officer in comedy whodunnit Murder Mystery, released on Netflix in 2019.
Jennifer Aniston recently returned to television, featuring in an ongoing Apple TV+ series The Morning Show with Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell. She’s also scheduled to appear in the long-awaited sequel to hit NBC sitcom Friends, aptly titled The One Where They Got Back Together. Aniston is best known for playing bubbly fashion executive Rachel Green in Friends for 10 years and will be reprising the role in the one-time HBO Max special. Friends: The Reunion comes out on the streaming service this year.