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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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This article is spot on,but the same thing could be said about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as well. The eternal love triangle has benefitted all three of them and without it they may have all disappeared into obscurity by now or at the very least no longer have been so high profile.

Actually, if you look at the majority of movie stars their status has nothing to do with their talent on the screen and more about how they are percieved and how well their ability is to stay in the public eye.

I think Aniston the actress was over after Derailed. To give Aniston credit some of her early movies were good but she hasn't been in a really good movie since Friends with Money I think she just stopped trying to act she is either girlfriend, wife or girlfriend in every movie .
Just think about Nicole Kidman in fact the circumstances of that one where worse for several reasons. NK has had her ups and downs since the divorce but she never took the pity me route, she won an Oscar, had a family, even co- starred in a movie with Penelope Cruz (who was the other woman).
As for whether or not Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie are only famous because of the triangle they were established movie stars BEFORE the split. There was no outcry when Aniston didn't come to the Oscars this year because her appearance was stunt casting for ratings by the Academy Awards but if Jolie or Pitt are nominated again I bet she will suddenly show up.

I don't go to her movies but she seems like a nice, fairly normal person. AND...she has a smokin' hot body. Maybe the best in Hollywood. That's enough for me.

An actress can choose to overcome the tabloid circumstances of her personal life if she really wants to & has talent look at Nicole Kidman, and now Sandra Bullock. And yes whether you like her or not Angelina Jolie. As for whether or not Ansiton can act that is debatable she was going to be a big movie star 10 years ago and it never happened once she failed to carry Derailed and Rumour Has It. She was good in a couple of small movies but that's because expectations were low. Her best work is always in ensemble pieces that by definition is not a movie star but a working actor. At this point if she really she should go back to TV. Actresses with 10 times the talent and Oscars have done it so there would be no shame and her talents work best on the small screen. How about a cable series along the lines of Weeds I am sure it would be a hit.

Very well said, simmons. I really think yours is a very objective analysis. Brangelina seem to be truly happy. I truly hope Jennifer will be, too.

For those denigrating Hillary Swank and Angelina Jolie: Both won Oscars. So your respective opinions about whether or not they are talented or whether or not they achieved fame based on something other than their talent are not based on facts. Do you really suppose yourselves to be better judges of talent than the peers of these two women?

As for Aniston, I agree that she starred on a hugely successful television series as part of an ensemble. None of the individual actors has gone on to substantial critical acclaim or box office success. The show was popular because of the ensemble, the writing, and the time in which it aired. A "Friends" might not last a season today. But the show got these people noticed, helped them get industrious and successful agents, and secured them the ability to continue appearing on screen even if none of them ever achieves a "superstar" status.

Popular culture is impossible to fathom: Madonna is not a great singer, dancer, or actress but money gravitates to her like iron filings to a magnet. He's been on TV more than anybody else in history, but what does Regis Philbin actually DO? Maybe Aniston will be like Bing Crosby who made millions just playing himself on the screen, then got a dynamite role and proved he could really act. Or maybe 'poor Jennifer' will just go on counting her millions and laughing all the way to the bank.

Angelina has an Oscar, a beautiful family, and Brad...Aniston is nothing without her, and would be a no one despite Friends (which is the most ridiculous sitcom about nothing )....she hoists herself upon us continuously with a boring charisma devoid of charm....and any intelligent person has already tired of her...

Friends was pure torture...does anybody really think those characters were interesting? Please, a dull cafe, a dull apartment and even duller friends....Anistons contribution was to look cute, and even now, to see her is to cringe...there are so many other wonderful actors out there, please ignore her for once as she is soooo tiresome.

I agree with MOST of this article....except the part where you call Brad Pitt 'scummy'......that is not right...not accurate...

A scummy person would have been considered a philanderer around Hollywood since first arriving there....THAT'S NOT BRAD!

A scummy man would have been caught cheating with MULTIPLE women during his many monagamous relationships with Juliet, Gwyneth, Jennifer, AND Angelina.....but THAT'S NOT BRAD!

A scummy man would have ensured he DIDN'T hook up with a woman who has kids, and CERTAINLY wouldn't have adopted any! ....but THAT'S NOT BRAD!

A scummy man wouldn't have started a charity to benefit the victims of the KATRINA tragedy in New Orleans, or took time to lobby the government on behalf of other poor people.....but THAT'S what Brad did.

A scummy man would not have stayed in a relationship with a woman for SIX years, four of which were MARRIAGE without producing the wanted children he yearned for, if he was such a 'scummy' person!

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