Jennifer Aniston – an actor seen frequently doing great work in poor films, sometimes excellent work in good films, and occasionally, amazing work in excellent films. How are we to know this prolific and skilled artist’s full range? We’ll just have to watch all of her films. Having been utterly depressed by the truly reprehensible Horrible Bosses 2 last week, we turn to a lighter and much easier watch in the form of Life of Crime.
FILM: Life of Crime
DIRECTOR: Daniel Schechter
SCREENWRITERS: Daniel Schechter, Elmore Leonard
CHARACTER NAME AND PROFESSION: Mickey Dawson, full time Mum.
PLOT SUMMARY: In 1978, Mickey is the unhappy wife of corrupt real estate developer Frank Dawson (Tim Robbins) who has millions embezzled in shady deals. When Frank goes out of town for business, Mickey is kidnapped by Louis (John Hawkes) and Ordell (Yasiin Bey) who take her to the home of Richard, (Mark Boone Junior), who proudly displays his Nazi paraphernalia. Mickey can tell that Louis and Ordell don’t have much experience with their enterprise due to the haphazard way they try to protect their identities and their lack of detailed information about her husband. When they demand one million dollars for Mickey’s safe return, Frank – alongside his mistress Melanie (Isla Fisher) – prefers to call their bluff, as he was planning to divorce Mickey anyway. After their demand fails to provoke action in Frank, Ordell travels to where he an Melanie are staying in Florida, only to have Melanie switch allegiances when she sees a way to save herself and make money. Meanwhile, the plot to have Mickey killed goes awry, when Louis catches Richard trying to rape her – instead he saves Mickey and returns her home. The whole thing appears to go back to ‘normal’ when Frank returns from his trip. Mickey, furious that Frank bet her life to save a million, visits Louis where they plot with Ordell to kidnap Melanie.
CHARACTER TRAITS: Exasperated, sad, kind, intelligent, defiant.
NOTES ON PERFORMANCE: Aniston doesn’t really get to do much here other than play a straight victim role, plus her face is hidden under a balaclava for a large part of the film’s first half, so her impact on the film overall is limited. Aniston’s usual knowing looks and wit – her habit of being the most intelligent or sensible person in a film – are used here to good effect in that her kidnappers are demonstrably inept, but beyond that she’s not driving the plot here. Rather, she does convey a subtle sadness that Mickey has that’s not just due to the situation at hand, but a general melancholy with the status quo.
NOTES ON FILM: This is a film with only two female roles, which essentially depict a Madonna/whore binary, so it’s not particularly nuanced or conveying any depth or meaning. Having said that, it appears to doing something a little more thoughtful with its Elmore Leonard source novel than a simple crime gone-wrong plot, and the casting and pace certainly supports that, allowing as it does, moments for Yasiin Bey and John Hawkes to emote impulsive and sensitive aspects of their characters respectively. Early in the film, Aniston’s character is introduced as having an alternative romantic partner in the form of Will Forte’s Marshall, suggesting that she’ll be saved and re-coupled by the film’s end. That she ultimately rejects his ineffectual concern to stride towards an alternative new beginning is at least a happy end for Mickey.
CONCLUSION: A perfectly pleasant, if inconsequential Aniston outing.
Jennifer Aniston – an actor seen frequently doing great work in poor films, sometimes excellent work in good films, and occasionally, amazing work in excellent films. How are we to know this prolific and skilled artist’s full range? We’ll just have to watch all of her films. After a 2016-shaped hiatus, Aniston of the Week is back, and this time, it’s Horrible Bosses 2.
FILM: Horrible Bosses 2
DIRECTOR: Sean Anders
SCREENWRITER: Sean Anders and John Morris, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Michael Markowitz
CHARACTER NAME AND PROFESSION: Dr Julia Harris D.D.S
PLOT SUMMARY: Julia is a Dentist and a sex addict. In Horrible Bosses 1, she sexually harassed her employee Dale (Charlie Day), making his work environment unbearable. Here, her workplace is broken into when the three idiots (Dale, Nick – Jason Bateman and Kurt – Jason Sudeikis) intend to steal Nitrous Oxide in order to kidnap the son of the man who ruined their business. The break-in is interrupted by Julia’s sex addiction meeting, which she brings to a swift end when Nick gatecrashes it, pretends to confess to homosexual affairs and enables her sex fantasy of ‘turning’ him. Later, when the three idiots enact an even more elaborate plot to pursue their kidnapping plans, Julia – having discovered the break-in on CCTV – tries to blackmail Dale into having sex with her. To her, his penis is ‘the white whale’ and she wants it or she’ll send all three idiots to jail. Dale dupes her and they get away. Finally, Having utterly failed to carry out their idiot plot, Dale is left unconscious having been shot and Julia visits him in hospital, claiming that while he was under, she took advantage of his involuntary erections during his comatose state.
CHARACTER TRAITS: Single minded, narcissistic, manipulative, predatory, vengeful.
NOTES ON PERFORMANCE: Aniston clearly had fun playing such a problematic character in Horrible Bosses and came back for more. She appears totally comfortable with the character, effortlessly conniving and portraying what I assume she rationalised is ‘naughty’ behaviour, when in fact it’s cruel and deeply unfunny.
NOTES ON FILM: The Horrible Bosses films perpetuate stereotypes about masculinity, about race and about female sexuality. They have rape jokes, which, just to be totally clear – are never funny – and feature most of the cast performing beneath their capabilities. The premise of Aniston’s character being funny is that an attractive woman with a sex addiction is something men should be grateful for, because of course, men aren’t allowed to feel victimised by predatory women – then they would seem weak. Yes, female on male rape is much rarer than male on female rape, but it does happen, it is real and the consequences are just as devastating for victims. That this is a studio film that made hundreds of millions of dollars and was written and directed by straight, white, cis men is exactly what’s wrong with Hollywood.
CONCLUSION: Please Aniston, do better.
Jennifer Aniston – an actor seen frequently doing great work in poor films, sometimes excellent work in good films, and occasionally, amazing work in excellent films. How are we to know this prolific and skilled artist’s full range? We’ll just have to watch all of her films. After a hiatus, Aniston of the Week is back, and this time, it’s Marley & Me.
FILM: Marley & Me
DIRECTOR: David Frankel
SCREENWRITER: Scott Frank, Don Roos
CHARACTER NAME AND PROFESSION: Jenny, Journalist.
PLOT SUMMARY: Jenny is married to John (Owen Wilson), who is also an (aspiring) reporter. They move to Florida and buy a house. Jenny’s career is very successful, with her taking frequent trips abroad for work. When he senses she wants to have a baby, he’s encouraged by his friend to get her a puppy instead. They name the puppy Marley and essentially never bother to train him, so he constantly behaves erratically and wrecks their house. Instead of becoming a reporter, John writes a column, which features Marley heavily. Eventually they have kids and Jenny struggles with being a full-time Mum. They move to Philadelphia so John can be a reporter but he ends up writing a column again. The whole family loves Marley right until the end of his life.
CHARACTER TRAITS: Ambitious, intelligent, organised, patient.
NOTES ON PERFORMANCE: A key moment here is Jenny adjusting to being a full-time mother, having previously been more successful in her career than John. Here, Aniston expresses the frustration of having seemingly conflicting feelings, of wanting to be with her children but feeling like she’s given up a part of her identity in order to do so. She’s angry, sad, frustrated, and showing all of it convincingly. It’s a shame the film doesn’t focus more on this struggle, seeing as it’s about the only real drama in the film.
NOTES ON FILM: A real comfort blanket of a film where essentially nothing much happens and a family live a fairly privileged life. Being from the male perspective makes it all the weaker – the film is based on the book from which the columns about Marley came. Still, Jenny’s identity crisis is so much richer than John’s – at one point she even declares how exhausted she is with his dissatisfaction, despite how full their lives are – but this is not given any further exploration. Ultimately it’s a weepy about a dog that teaches children about death.
CONCLUSION: Standard Aniston is a mainly supporting role. Given that one big scene to show her dramatic skills, but otherwise usurped by Wilson’s voiceover.