Movie Stars: Aniston, Jennifer–Quasi Movie Star?

I am baffled by the big-screen career of Jennifer Aniston, the amiable performer still best-known for her smash TV series “Friends.”
My review of “The Switch” and other Aniston pictures have evoked and provoked strong reactions from readers, ranging for complete dismissal of her star stature to mild opinions about her talent to the few who thought that she still has chance to prove herself as an actress and a star.
Here are some thoughts about her dwindling career over the past decade or so.
Aniston is attractive and appealing and the camera like her, but she is not particularly beautiful or photogenic in the way that Julia Roberts, (sorry to mention her) Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock, Sarah Jessica Parker, Drew Barrymore are, all actresses who are more or less in her age bracket.
Most of Aniston’s movies—and shockingly, she has made more than 25 by now—have been artistic AND commercial flops, not a very good combination in an industry like Hollywood.
Questions to be answered:
Is Aniston a genuine star?
Can she command the screen as a leading lady?
Are her artistic and/or commercial flops a function of poor taste, bad choices of material, bad advise from her managers?
If I knew the answers to those queries I would be a rich critic, sort of consultant to movie stars as how to structure their careers in a positive, profitable.
Romantic comedy: Defining Genre
For better or worse, Aniston’s specialized genre has been the overworked romantic comedy. Unfortunately, her latest effort, “The Switch,” starring Jason Bateman, got bad reviews and tanked at the box-office this past weekend; it didn’t even gross $9 million on the crucial opening weekend.

According to Variety, with an estimated $8.3 million at 2,012 locations, the film still debuted lower than other similarly-themed fare — the most recent being CBS Films’ “The Back-Up Plan,” which bowed in April with $12.2 million.

Earlier this year, Aniston was in another terrible picture that flopped, “The Bounty,” opposite Gerard Butler, who, to me, is also a disappointment as an actor and star, in the wake of his breakthrough in “300.”

 
TV Origins
 
I have been studying movie stars for three decades now, and can say that very few actors who had begun their careers on TV made a smooth transition to the big screen and ended up there as major, bankable stars. The prime example are of course John Travolta and Johnny Depp. But for every Travolta and Depp, there are hundred of small-screen actors who could not command the big screen; basically all of Aniston’s colleagues from “Friends” have tried to make feature movies and largely failed.
 
Few Hits: The Exceptions
 
The two big successes that Aniston has had over the past decade are the comedy “The Break-Up,” which benefited immensely from the presence of the popular Vince Vaughan and the gossip that they had an affair during and after the shoot.
The other big success was “Marley and Me,” and without needing to offend Aniston and company, I would like to propose that the charming dog(s) had much to do with the commercial popularity.
Leading Lady Vs. Character and Supporting Actress
 
Perhaps Aniston has a brighter future as a character actress in smaller, independent films. Two of her strongest performances to date are in “The Good Girl” (2002), an ensmble piece out of Sundance Film Fest, and “Friends With Money,” scripted and directed by the gifted Nicole Holofcener, in which Aniston played one of the four femmes.
 
Aniston as Social Type
 
Hollywood’s greatest stars have had the capacity to represent a distillation of certain ideas and ideals that people aspire to. Stars are the electronic figments of our media-saturated imaginations, as their screen persona depends on words and images. Stars tend to produce the ideological framework within which lifestyles are integrated and legitimized. Actors help to order experience and organize a common culture.
In this respect, Aniston strikes me as the “ordinary girl” type of star, the “girl next-door” type, which is a good thing. But in this department, she has competition from the far more talented, likable and durable Sandra Bullock, 45, who’s only four years older than Aniston, now 41, a dangerous age for any actress in Hollywood, even the talented ones.
The only actress I can compare Aniston to is Katherine Heigl, also a TV alumnus (“Gray’s Anatomy”), who’s been struggling to make a smoothly successful transition to the big screen. Like Aniston, Heigl has specialized in romantic comedy genre.
Except that bad as Heigl’s films have been artistically, they at least perform at the box-office. The awful comedy, “Awful Truth,” also opposite Gerard Butler, made a lot of money despite being panned by most critics.
Future will tell:
Jennifer Aniston will be seen in no less than three pictures in 2011.
 
 
 
 Essay written in 2011.