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Wit, sex appeal, light touch make earthly ‘superhero’

Profile in Excellence: Jennifer Aniston

Though she’s amply proved she can handle heavy emotional demands, in the likes of “Friends With Money” and “The Good Girl,” Jennifer Aniston prefers to deliver her goods in reliable ways. Year after year, she graces light comedies with a uniquely relatable blend of smarts and sex appeal for which men (understandably) desire her, while women (amazingly) seem not to resent her.

In the words of David Wain, who helms her and Paul Rudd in the upcoming ensemble comedy “Wanderlust”: “She’s so special. She’s like a superhero, yet she’s totally down to earth. Some of her movies over the years have been better than others, but she always shines.”

A decade as one of TV’s unforgettable “Friends” made her an undeniable known commodity, but longevity in the medium was by no means assured. On the contrary, Hollywood lists dozens of tube stars whose bigscreen dreams quickly sputtered out or remained stillborn.

Aniston stands alone in having parlayed 10 years in a single recurring series role into an uninterrupted string of bigscreen leads. Meanwhile her technique, the secret of that success, has earned her insufficient credit.

Of giant B.O. hit “Marley & Me,” a cynic might sniff, “All that mattered was the guy and the dog. Any actress could’ve pulled off that second-banana part.” Yet Aniston’s casting was indispensible in four unsung ways:

•She’s adept at broad comedy. (She starts off “The Bounty Hunter” locked in a trunk; as one of the “Horrible Bosses” she strips down to leather to sexually harass an employee.) Not many 40ish women would let themselves be dragged across the room by a runaway hound.

•She has a high boiling point — a tendency to react to chaos with just a raised eyebrow. A thesp who screeched at her dog’s first mishap would have nowhere to go in subsequent reels.

Aniston parcels out her pique at the pooch, eventually exploding for maximum mirth.

•She can leaven her lightness with poignancy. It’s not easy to factor a miscarriage and post-partum depression into a warmhearted family comedy, but Aniston manages it handily.

•You can readily believe Owen Wilson would do anything to keep her. Pic’s spine is the tension between concern for his family and caring for a clearly unstable pet.

The yummy Aniston keeps that tension in balance.

In “Wanderlust,” she again matches a strong male co-star in charisma and warmth.

Says Wain of a pivotal late scene, “She really has to convince an audience to have sympathy for a woman deciding to stay at this commune where everyone has free sex, and let her husband go. Somehow she’s able to navigate that, and deliver it with feeling and understanding.”

Any carping critics seem to not consider everything Aniston can do.

One thinks of another skilled light comedienne of years past who successfully balanced wit and sex appeal in a string of similar roles: Once Myrna Loy became Nora Charles, she more or less stayed Nora Charles to no one’s complaint.

Aniston’s may career take a turn that is unexpected to her audience. But even if she forgoes the deglamourized parts that can be awards fodder (as did Loy), people are sure to scan the TV listings for years to come and say of her, as they do of Loy,

“Oh, I love her, she’s always good.”

As legacies go, that one’s not bad at all.

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