The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Jennifer Aniston: Exactly why is she a movie star?


Let's face it. When it comes to enduring mysteries, it's hard to come up with something more mystifying than how Jennifer Aniston became a movie star. After all, she's made an almost-unbroken string of forgettable movies that have rarely made a lot of money, a streak that looks like it will remain intact with the release of "The Switch" this weekend. So how did it happen? As it turns out, my favorite sports columnist, ESPN's Bill Simmons, has a provocative--and hugely entertaining--theory about how Aniston has managed to remain an A-list star, despite appearing in such hapless sludge as "Derailed," "Rumor Has It," "Management," "Love Happens,"  "He's Just Not That Into You" and "The Bounty Hunter." 

Aniston's biggest hit was "Marley & Me," though it's something of a stretch to say that she was the driving force for the film's box-office triumph. Or as Simmons puts it: "They could have made this movie with Betty White playing Owen Wilson's wife and it still would have made $100 million." So why hasn't Aniston faded into obscurity, ya know, like Matt LeBlanc and some of the other "Friends" lesser lights? Here's a condensed version of Simmons' theory:

"Because of the Angelina/Brad/Jennifer love triangle, which is like Brett Favre's comeback/retirement/comeback routine multiplied by 10, but has been cruising along for twice as long. The saga evolved in various forms: the betrayal itself; the aftermath, when Aniston licked her wounds as "Brangelina" took off; her futile search for a bounce-back boyfriend; the Brangelina clan expanding; everyone feeling worse and worse for Aniston, with her finally admitting that she was still bummed out; the Brangelina clan expanding again; Aniston's weird dalliance with the much younger John Mayer, which ended when he talked out of school about her; the Brangelina clan expanding again; Aniston approaching her 40th birthday and wanting a baby; the Brangelina clan producing twins; Aniston hitting 40 with no baby or husband; Aniston passing 40 with no baby or husband. People can't get enough of this stuff. Aniston resonates with women like no other celebrity. No matter how wealthy or famous or good-looking she is, the nuts and bolts of Aniston's "tragic" story could have happened to anyone: She lost her scummy husband to a seductive co-worker. Maybe it was the worst thing that ever happened to her personally, but professionally? Godsend."

Being The Sports Guy, Simmons compares Aniston to an aging athlete (think Karl Malone or Steve Nash) who, having never won a championship ring, is desperate to finally get into the winner's circle. In fact, he theorizes that if Aniston had remarried in 2006 to a rich Rande Gerber type and had a couple of kids,  by 2010, "would anyone care about Jennifer Aniston? NO!!!!!!" Only if she made good movies, something that has so far largely eluded her. Simmons suspects that Aniston doesn't much want to make great movies, saying "she's happy being a likable celebrity with decent comic timing who plays herself in every movie (with only her hairstyle and co-star changing)."

I suspect this strain of career success/personal unhappiness runs deep in the Hollywood DNA. After all, there are loads of old-school showbiz starlets, dating back to the days of Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth, who had all sorts of similar man trouble, the only difference being that in those days, you married all the louses and had to endure a quickie Mexican divorce before you could regain your freedom. Who knows? Maybe Aniston will find Mr. Right tomorrow and enjoy a burst of later-in-life happiness. If having a successful marriage freed her from the shackles of being on the cover of US every other month, I bet marital bliss couldn't come a minute too soon.   

Photo: Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman in "The Switch." Credit: Miramax Films


Comments () | Archives (117)

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I'm going to try this again.... because no way did i write anything off-topic or out-of-line:

"She lost her scummy husband to a seductive co-worker. Maybe it was the worst thing that ever happened to her personally, but professionally? Godsend"

Let's not forget the tabloid industry, news shows, and 'deep and insightful' celebrity journalist commentators such as yourself. godsend indeed. EVERYBODY is cashing in on her perceived misery. And yet she is being judged by these very same people of not 'letting it go'? The journalist who condescendly states how her 5-yr old story resonates with us simple-minded ordinary people (yet it sure didn't stop you from bringing it up and make into a full blown sports analogy to bulk up this article). Great journalism right here - great subject matter here. Apparently Aniston needs to start making non-escapist fare, but you get a free pass for posting this nonsensical empty-calorie piece of an 'article'

Of all the actors and celebrities who have movies out, you choose her. I wonder why? Could it be her traffic generating abilities? Ready hits for your website? And not only do you choose her, but decided to do a mean-spirited drive-by shooting on her for having the audacity of making films or having fans.

Is there a reason why people like Betty White? It's definitely not her ability to act varying characters or change her hair. Coincidentally, she's also a TV girl. But I don't see you making lengthy posts with sports analogies that question why she's famous, or reduce her worth based on events that happened years ago.

Aniston will always have the 10-yr run on the monster of a success that was Friends. She also has the hardware to prove her ability to act. She doesn't need to do anything else, but she does it because she feels like it. She's not hate-worthy or unlikeable. Hasn't kicked anyone's puppy, or shown up at court as cokehead or pulled a Mel Gibson. Yet putting her down has become some sort of sport. Fans defend her, not because of a triangle, but because it just doesn't ADD UP. Because at the end of the day it's bullying and back-biting pettiness from people who also depend on her to get web traffic. It's undeserved and disgusting behaviour.

I'd like to point out that Aniston starred in two excellent independent films and was quite good in both of them. The Mike White written The Good Girl and Nicole Holofcener's Friends with Money. I love both of those films.

Now, those types of films usually don't equal the A-List type attention she gets but I think she does have talent and it's kind of pointless to bash her for the kind of press she gets.

The LA Times are meanies. This is not the only story where I've come to realize this.

I concur.

I don't get the Angelina "thing".. I am a red blooded GL guy and I don't get ANGELINA.

I agree on the Hillary Swank thing too. How could she have beat out Annette Bening for an Oscar ? AMAZING.

Kudos for Tilda & PAtricia too. ACTRESSES of the best kind. But generally, I like JA. I happened to meet her one night at Pane Vino. She was gracious, beautiful and friendly. Very real... But don't fool yourselves... she is very happy in her skin. I wish her nothing but the best. And it gets better every day...I'm sure..

All have a great weekend.

It was a good column. No one is "hating" on Aniston. Saying she isn't much of a star isn't saying anything about her character (I think her simple-minded, knee-jerk, unsophisticated Hollyweird liberalism says more about her character.) The observation that she seems to get a LOT of tabloid coverage despite making a string of bad movies is almost too obvious.

I really liked the one guy's line: "I always thought Friends made Seinfeld seem like it was about something." Too funny!

and i just wanted to add - is Aniston ONLY allowed to be own her failures but NEVER her successes?

All he did here was copy and paste an entire section of Simmons' article, then add about 3 agreeable sentences of his own at the end. Where are the original thoughts and opinions in this piece by Patrick Goldstein?

It seems to me that the Sportsguy's observation about how Aniston resonates with the public is spot on, based upon the prior posts.

Jennifer Aniston comes off as a very real person, someone with whom you could be friends. What makes her a movie star is her ability to be at two places at the same time: On the screen and sitting next to you at the movies. She's just that "accessible." Most of us can relate to her on some level and that's what keeps her star power intact.

Aniston is just another example of how low the bar is set vis a vis what is considereed talent. Her range as an actress is quite limited despite a few promising smaller roles in years past. She isn't particularly pretty-the streets of LA are populated by thousands of women with looks comprable to hers. Perhaps having an employed actor father helped open some doors for her.

Her tv stint was part of an ensemble-no evidence she could carry a show on her own. I am amazed that she continues to get starring roles albeit in very forgetable films. These are the stuff of inflight movies. I personally wouldn't spend a dime to see any of them. But I must also agree with thee comments about Zellweger (sic) & Swank.

Aniston strikes me as the sort who will still be prancing about in revealing clothing tossing her long locks long beyond the time it is appropriate after she has reached that woman of a certain age state.

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