Bening plays Nikki, who loses her husband, a cavalier Ed Harris within minutes of the film opening. An unrealistically joyous couple, the pair laugh and frolic in excess on a Mexican getaway before the husband drowns after a spontaneous swim. Nikki is left with the house, a seemingly endless supply of jackets and the memories of her kooky and carefree marriage. Company comes in the form of her daughter (played particularly well by Jessie Weixler) and Robin Williams as her neighbour and fellow widower, who harbours a secret crush for her. Living a reserved but well-furnished life as an interior designer, Nikki begins to unravel upon meeting Tom, an artist bearing an uncanny resemblance to her husband (both played by Ed Harris). After the first few tentative and quite charming first encounters, Tom falls for Nikki and Nikki for everything that Tom reminds her of.
Both leads take on the task of the dysfunctional couple admirably, but their efforts crash against a stubbornly creaky script. “I could take a bath in the way that you look at me” proclaims Tom during one of many lingering moments between the pair, which makes up what feels like a third of the film. It’s also riddled with clichés; Nikki spots Tom for the first time at an exhibition on the lives of the past, while her presence enables him to start painting properly again.
Robin Williams is barely used, serving as a compassionate-turned-jealous companion for Nikki when his charm and charisma could be used for greater things. The same could be said for Weixler, who only gets to show her weight as an actor towards the end of the film. As the relationship hurtles towards the inevitable reveal the tone becomes desperate and unclear; Tom is besotted with Nikki and yet seemingly oblivious to the fact she is harbouring some obvious issues, and Nikki in turn is too blinded by the absence of her husband to take any real notice of Tom.
Essentially the characters are selfish, and at times understandably so; they’ve been through a lot (Tom is divorced), but when this is the driving force of the film there’s not a great deal to empathise with. The Face of Love is undeniably romantic with its idyllic settings and tasteful aesthetics, but runs on a flimsy script that should be providing the meat of the film.