THE HUNT FOR MR OSCAR
Is Jennifer Aniston losing her ‘America’s favourite girlfriend’ appeal? We look at how the actress’ celebrity status may be killing her career
By Joanne Soh
April 23, 2010
Put Jennifer Aniston on the cover of a magazine and you’ll be guaranteed a surge in news-stand sales.
Put her lovely face on a movie poster and, well, the results will be the direct opposite.
Try as hard as she may, she just can’t seem to draw crowds into the cineplexes of late.
Her last two indie titles, Love Happens (2009) and Management (2008), scraped in a combined figure of US$36 million (S$49 million) worldwide.
In Forbes’ Ultimate Star Payback 2007 survey, she was ranked as Hollywood’s most profitable actress, returning US$17 for every dollar she is paid.
Just a year later, she dropped to eighth place.
Have people lost interest in America’s favourite girlfriend?
Or are they simply more interested in who she’s dating – from Vince Vaughn to Paul Sculfor to John Mayer – or the many alleged phone calls she has made to ex-husband Brad Pitt?
Most likely, it’s because everyone’s getting tired of her indistinguishable roles in movie after movie.
The 41-year-old of toned limbs, tawny skin and great hair keeps playing the same funny, often neurotic and better-looking-than-all everygirl in romantic fluff that remind us how single and lonely she is.
The Aniston brand of comedy is again on display in The Bounty Hunter, which opens in cinemas today.
In the action rom-com, she plays investigative journalist Nicole Hurley who’s on the run from the law for being Awol on the day she’s due to show up in court for a driving offence.
Tasked to bring her in is Milo Boyd (Gerard Butler), an ex-cop-turned-bounty hunter, who also happens to be Nicole’s ex-husband.
Aniston told OK! magazine: ‘I’ve done some romantic comedies before and I didn’t want to do one of those again.
‘The Bounty Hunter is a sort of sexy action comedy and I got to do some stuff I haven’t done before. I wouldn’t have made a chick flick. I’m bored of that. This is just a good, fun, action comedy.’
So dare we expect the unexpected from Aniston? Sadly, no.
Playing to her strengths has got her where she is and it has become her trademark. But has that robbed her of her credibility as an actress?
A New York Post film critic wrote: ‘Aniston just can’t play the good friend any more. She’s aged out, no matter the yoga and the highlights. She just can’t do America’s sweetheart next door. She needs a big wake-up call.’
It doesn’t help that her ‘showmance’ with co-star Butler has put her in the limelight for the wrong reasons.
Reports of them being all over each other on and off the red carpet and pictures of him grabbing her derriere at the recent Paris premiere of The Bounty Hunter hogged the headlines.
Then there was their risque photo shoot in the May issue of W Magazine.
Either American audiences are put off by their are-they-aren’t-they stunts or Aniston’s star power is diminishing, as The Bounty Hunter received a lukewarm reception.
It took in only US$58 million in the US, making it her poorest performing studio-produced film to date.
She has been on the fame superhighway ever since she was cast as Rachel Green in the hit TV sitcom Friends in 1994.
But it was when she became Mrs Brad Pitt and one-half of Hollywood’s golden couple in 2000 that she truly became a celebrity.
It was also during those years that her career soared.
In 2002, she won a best actress Emmy for Friends and earned career-best raves for playing against type as a frumpy housewife in the film The Good Girl.
Her big-screen follow-ups, Bruce Almighty (2003) and Along Came Polly (2004), were box-office winners, taking in US$485 million and US$172 million worldwide respectively.
That period saw her snatching the rom-com queen title from Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts, both of whom had switched gears into the dramatic arena.
However, Aniston’s fairytale didn’t have a happy ending. Her high-profile marriage ended in 2005 and Aniston immediately went from being a commendable performer to the poor woman who got dumped for Angelina Jolie.
Naturally, tabloids made truckloads of money at her expense and the overexposure backfired. The experience turned her into a tough nut.
She told Harper’s Bazaar: ‘I used to care a lot more about what people said or thought. But that had to change when my life was under a microscope being scrutinised and my personal life was being talked about.’
All that constant media frenzy rendered Aniston The Actress non-existent almost overnight. Her subsequent movies – Derailed (2005), Rumor Has It (2005), Friends With Money (2006) – bombed critically and commercially.
Perhaps she has to take a leaf out of Bullock’s career.
Much like how Bullock went from box-office champ (Miss Congeniality) to critics’ darling (Crash) and ultimately Oscar winner (The Blind Side), Aniston needs to step out of her comfort zone, try a makeover and take on more challenging, riskier roles.
Perhaps she is aware of her impending expiry date.
She admitted to Harper’s Bazaar: ‘You can bad-choice your way out of the business. I’ve had a couple of doozies, so I’m lucky I’m still invited back at all.’
But judging from her upcoming projects, it doesn’t look like Aniston will relinquish her go-to genre so soon.
There’s The Switch, in which she stars opposite Jason Bateman as an unmarried 40-year-old who undergoes artificial insemination.
Then she’ll pair up with Adam Sandler for the rom-com Just Go With It.
With just a glance at the titles of her other films in development – Love: Todd, Getting Rid Of Matthew, Chemistry, The Divorce Party, You Are Here – one suspects they’ll all fall under familiar territory.
So will there ever be a breakout vehicle for Aniston, who recently revealed she’s looking to do something creatively different by directing her first feature-length project?
The answer may lie with The Goree Girls, which is currently in its pre-production stage.
Produced by and starring Aniston, this is her long-gestating labour of love. Set in the 1940s, it’s a musical that centres on a group of incarcerated female country-and-western performers.
‘The last five years have been about spring cleaning for me. Now it’s time for my rebirth. I love trying new things. I can’t just be put in a box,’ she summed up to Harper’s Bazaar.
She added in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily magazine: ‘Obviously, I’m drawn to comedy, good or bad. But I love doing parts that are different and I sprinkle those throughout to get creatively unstuck.
‘I’m really excited about my next movie Buttercup. It’s not trying to make people laugh and it’s not a big tent pole picture. It will be more for me – and for the people who say, ‘You should do something serious’.’
So if Bullock can win her first Oscar at 45, there’s still time for Aniston to prove her worth.
Hilary, Thandie, Katherine?
Nah, I had the best chemistry with Jennifer
Gerard Butler’s on-screen love interests are getting hotter with each passing movie.
There was Lena Headey in his breakout movie 300 in 2006, followed by Hilary Swank in P.S. I Love You the next year.
Then he cosied up to Thandie Newton in RocknRolla in 2008 and Katherine Heigl in The Ugly Truth in 2009.
This year, he’s getting intimate with Jennifer Aniston in the new action comedy The Bounty Hunter.
And according to the man himself, the chemistry between them simply sizzled.
The 40-year-old Scottish actor plays Milo, a down-on-his-luck bounty hunter who gets his dream job when assigned to track down his bail-jumping ex-wife Nicole.
But as with all Butler’s on-screen relationships – current or past – things are not a bed of roses.
The man said: ‘The quickest way to describe (The Bounty Hunter) would be Midnight Run meets War Of The Roses.’
Milo finds out the hard way that although it would give him much pleasure, it ain’t that easy bringing his former spouse to justice.
Jennifer Aniston seems so good at this kind of genre.
She is definitely a pro. I relished the chance to do this kind of film with somebody like Jennifer.
And yet, it’s also a role where I think people will be surprised by her performance.
She’s great and yet she is very edgy and sassy and bitchy and strong and she’s not quite the sweet Jennifer that people are used to.
I haven’t seen her like this before. And as a person, I’ll tell you, I had such a great time working with her.
We always saw eye to eye and we were very much on the same wavelength; I had a great time doing scenes with her and you know, it felt like we were making some magic.
I guess screen chemistry is a rather elusive element. Do you know whether it’s going to happen before you start working with someone? Or can you only be sure when the cameras roll?
You might get a hint of it from when you meet them, you know, do you bounce off each other well? Does it feel right?
But having said that, sometimes you can be wrong, sometimes it can feel great but the chemistry isn’t fantastic.
Although I have to say that I normally have good chemistry with my female co-stars, but I think that I had the best chemistry with her.
And that’s what everybody was always talking about, just how great fun we were together and how great the chemistry was.
You know, scene after scene when we were in the middle of it, I thought: ‘This is a dream, this is so much fun’.
It was never an effort, never a struggle; we just worked really well together.
You seem to be mixing up your career in a good way. You do films like 300 and Law Abiding Citizen and then you do a comedy like The Bounty Hunter. Is that part of a grand plan?
I wouldn’t say that I’ve got a specific ‘grand plan’ with my career but, generally, it’s to move in new and fresh directions whenever possible.
Of course, there are only so many new and fresh directions you can move in when you are in the movie business. After which you’re going to run into some repetition of the genre that you have done, but I have always battled to keep it interesting for me, to keep it interesting for anybody that would go and watch my movies, to keep people guessing and to keep challenging myself.