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.

Thesp again tackles new roles

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

  • Female Filmmakers in Germany Make Progress

    Female Filmmakers Surge Forward in Germany, But Still Face Obstacles

    Four feature films by German filmmakers screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and three of them were directed by women – Angela Schanelec’s “I Was at Home, But…,” winner of the Berlinale’s best director prize, Ina Weisse’s “The Audition,” and Katrin Gebbe’s “Pelican Blood,” the latter two both starring Nina Hoss. Germany’s Oscar entry this [...]

  • Bull

    Annie Silverstein's 'Bull' Takes Top Awards, Robert Pattinson Starrer 'The Lighthouse' Wins Jury Prize at Deauville

    Annie Silverstein’s feature debut “Bull” swept three awards at the 45th Deauville American Film Festival, including the Grand Prize, the Revelation Prize for best first film and the Critics’ Prize. “Bull,” a portrait of a rebellious teenage girl from South Texas, world premiered at Cannes’s Un Certain Regard and marks Silverstein’s follow up to her [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Dances Toward $32 Million Opening Weekend

    “Hustlers” is eyeing the biggest opening weekend ever for STXFilms, following a Friday domestic ticket haul of $13.1 million from 3,250 theaters. If estimates hold, the stripper saga could take home around $32 million come Sunday, marking the best live-action opening of Jennifer Lopez’s career. “Hustlers” follows a group of former strip club dancers, led [...]

  • Hustlers intimacy coordinator

    Meet the Stripper Consultant Who Gave 'Hustlers' Authenticity, Dignity and Sexual Freedom

    At last week’s Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Hustlers,” an audience of Hollywood heavyweights and Canadian locals applauded as a statuesque woman strutted on stage, rocking six-inch platform heels and a pastel tie-dye bodysuit. This adoration was not for stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu or Keke Palmer, nor was it for the film’s acclaimed writer-director [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content