Jennifer Aniston makes Friends
Time is running out for Jennifer Aniston.
Right now, she can still command column inches like nobody's business. A couple of hours before my official audience with the star at January's Sundance Film Festival I pick up some supplies from the local supermarket, and there she is staring back at me at the check out, looking harassed and dejected, mostly, spread across the covers of In Touch magazine, Celebrity Living, Life & Style, and People.
This kind of fame takes on a life of its own, and like it or not Aniston has been cast in the role of the woman scorn'd. Life & Style boasted the most emotional pitch, but the message from the tabs was all the same: 'It Should Have Been My Baby!'
Over on the other aisle, the monthly InStyle also had Aniston on the cover, beaming from ear to ear, radiating radiance, and bearing the upbeat 'Jennifer's Fresh Start: Why She's Feeling Stronger (& Sexier) Than Ever'. Dig those brackets! Unlike the weeklies, InStyle had it from the horse's mouth - in fact their reporter seemed to have been granted exclusive access to Aniston's get-away from it all girls' weekend in a swanky Mexican resort.
I can't help wondering what sort of person invites a journalist along on vacation, but the piece is pretty obviously intended as a strategic counter-attack in the propaganda war for Aniston's image, pb (post-Brad). This wasn't Jen the Reject, but Jen Liberated, an altogether sexier role.
Frankly, it makes my junket interview seem pretty shabby: half an hour with just me and Jen, plus costar Catherine Keener and Friends with Money writer-director Nicole Holofcener, oh, and more than a dozen eager representatives of the international press.
She certainly doesn't seem rejected or dejected when the interview finally gets going more than an hour late. She's dressed in jeans and a tasteful lilac jumper with a grey scarf and fur-trimmed boots - it's been her uniform all festival, a screw-you to the paparazzi, who can't sell the same outfit three days on the trot. But she seems perfectly relaxed, friendly and responsive to our questions. We're not specifically instructed that Baby Brangelina is off-limits, as sometimes happens, but no one is so impolite as to raise the question. In any case, that's so last week's news. (You can read the full interview here.)
But there's another question nobody asks, a more important one, but one only Joe Public can answer: does Jennifer Aniston really have what it takes to be a movie star? To date, the jury is very definitely out.
By the end of Friends season ten she was earning a cool million dollars a show. That's a figure Hollywood respect, and she's been given plenty more in the movies she's done since. But small screen popularity doesn't necessarily translate into ticket sales - just look at David Schwimmer's career. Aniston has shared in a couple of big hits, but Bruce Almighty had nothing to do with her, and Along Came Polly probably owed more to Ben Stiller.
Meanwhile, after a very busy, very public year, Aniston saw Derailed come out to respectable but hardly earth-shattering business - and respectable but hardly earth-shattering reviews - while Rumor Has It bombed big time. Less is riding on the low budget Friends with Money, except it's her name on the poster and it's supposed to be her genre: light dramatic comedy. US returns have only reached about $5 million on limited release since April.
Studio executives must be wondering if her biggest asset - her fame - is really an asset at all. In fact it may be a hindrance. Do we really buy Rachel Green as a femme fatale in Derailed? Can we accept this tabloid megastar as an impoverished, insecure maid in Friends with Money? Of course acting comes somewhere into this equation, but in the movies, personality is often more important. Everybody likes Rachel, but is 'like' enough to sustain a film career?
This summer's The Break-Up, with Vince Vaughn, may indeed prove make or break for Aniston. The elements are in place, it feeds directly on her public persona, it's another romantic comedy, and studio marketing bucks will be behind it. All she needs now is an audience.
And if that audience doesn't show? She's 37, which is probably past peak years for an actress, and she has nothing else in production. You can already here the knives coming outů the subject line of a recent message board entry on the imdb read Great hair, no talent. 'What do you think about Jen? Charisma like a sleeping pill' someone posted. 'I'm in full agreement that Jennifer is a bad actress,' echoed someone else. 'But I think her hair is highly overrated.'
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