Aniston of the week: We’re the Millers

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 We’re the Millers.

FILM: We’re the Millers
DIRECTOR: Rawson Marshall Thurber
YEAR: 2013
SCREENWRITERS: Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, and John Morris
CHARACTER NAME AND PROFESSION: ‘Rose’ aka Sarah, stripper.
PLOT SUMMARY: Rose works as a stripper and lives in the same building as weed dealer David (Jason Sudeikis). He has all his money stolen when his other neighbour, Kenny (Will Poulter) chases off some thugs from Casey (Emma Roberts) and David attempts to help. Now owing his supplier Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms) money, he agrees to go to Mexico to smuggle back an enormous amount of weed, and persuades Rose, Casey and Kenny to come with him, posing as a family in order to avoid suspicion. Rose only agrees to accompany David on the trip because the club she works as starts insisting the strippers also prostitute themselves, and she demands $30,000 from David. They get into Mexico easily, but have ever-elaborate ways of avoiding suspicion when they meet the Fitzgerald family – Edie and Don (Kathryn Hahn and Nick Offerman) – the latter turning out to be a DEA agent.
CHARACTER TRAITS: Caustic, intelligent, resourceful, witty, compassionate, creative.
NOTES ON PERFORMANCE: Aniston convinces as a disgruntled stripper, one who has no enthusiasm left for her job and therefore gives a low-energy performance, and her grumpy, quick-witted persona works well in scenes riffing off the smug Sudeikis. It therefore doesn’t convince at all when she suddenly offers to strip to appease the real criminals who are threatening their lives. A to-camera shrug from Sudeikis simply confirms this is just an excuse to objectify Aniston and that makes the scene ultimately really sad.
NOTES ON FILM: Well, it’s total trash. Produced and written by a band of talentless men, this shows on screen. Broad strokes, an excruciatingly lame plot, total lack of humour, stereotypes instead of characters, and infuriatingly, I actually watched the extended cut by mistake – why anyone would want two whole hours of this film on purpose is baffling to me. Real low point.
CONCLUSION: It has come to my attention that there’s a We’re the Millers 2 in the pipeline. Save us all.


Aniston of the week: Rumour Has It…

The year after Friends ended, Aniston made two films, one of which, Derailed we’ll cover in the coming weeks. The other is an odd identity crisis comedy/drama based on the idea of The Graduate being a true story related to Aniston’s character. Aniston pretty much carries the film, which, amongst the weirdness, almost saves it.

Rumour Has It…rumorhasit
Rob Reiner
Sarah Huttinger, Obituary Columnist
Recently engaged Sarah and Jeff (Mark Ruffalo) fly to Sarah’s sister’s wedding in Pasadena. Sarah feels like an outsider in her own family and doesn’t know why, she’s also unsure about marrying Jeff. When he figures out that Sarah must have been conceived before her parents wedding, she insists that her mother (who died years earlier) must have had an affair with someone before she got married. Sarah questions her Grandmother, Katharine (Shirley MacLaine) and discovers that her mother ran off to Mexico and had an affair with a man called Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner) before the wedding, and that this story became the basis for the book/movie/play, The Graduate. Sarah sets off to find out if Beau is her biological father.

La Rumeur court
Shirley MacLaine as Katharine and Mark Ruffalo as Jeff

CHARACTER TRAITS: Withdrawn, introverted, insecure, caring, thoughtful.
Aniston underplays for the most part here, portraying Sarah as someone really lost, but trying to keep it together. She handles Sarah’s arc very convincingly, and any awkward moments seem more down to the screenplay and direction than anything else. (See the moment she thinks she might have slept with her Dad – 1. Why include this scene? 2. Why play her reaction for laughs when it’s clearly a horrifying prospect?

Kevin Costner: practically sleeping through his role as Beau

NOTES ON FILM: This is an odd one. The film’s writer, Ted Griffin previously penned Ocean’s Eleven and Matchstick Men, so clearly had some successes to his name, he’s also from Pasadena, which explains his interest in depicting the particular gossip mill of the area. Director Rob Reiner, is half responsible for When Harry Met Sally, one of the greatest comedies of all time, so the missteps in this film are curious. What’s good about it, is that it at least focuses on Sarah’s identity crisis, and leads towards her eventual closeness with her sister. What doesn’t work is the way this potentially thoughtful subject is explored – through perfunctory sexual encounters (with zero chemistry thanks to Costner) and ‘comedic’ incest issues. Sarah and Jeff do not seem like a good fit from the start, and the film doesn’t totally convince in concluding that Sarah just needs to appreciate what she’s got. One other note: Shirley MacLaine is excellent, as usual.
Aniston gets through it, and Ruffalo is charming, but this is just feels like Aniston testing out themes she’s explored better elsewhere (See Friends with Money, 2006).


Introducing: Aniston of the Week

I like Jennifer Aniston. A lot of people do, and some people are indifferent, I’m sure. Some who know me, may be aware that I’ve been planning to write about Ms Aniston for years now, due to my conviction that she’s one of Hollywood’s most talented actors, yet consistently underrated. Jennifer Aniston has been in some really bad films, and A LOT of useless romantic comedies, and every few years she acts in a ‘serious’ film, and audiences and critics alike rush to praise her performance as if she’s never really performed before. That’s my perception of Jennifer anyway. Apparently, she’s also appeared as the cover star of magazines more than any other actor. People say she has a ‘girl next door’ quality that is key to her appeal. I’m not sure if that’s true, I just think she’s brilliant to watch.

In order to really put this long-held conviction to the test, this week I’m introducing a new column: Aniston of the Week. Every week I’ll report on a different Aniston performance, which will mean viewing some films I’ve seen many times before, some I’m looking forward to and some I have until now avoided (perhaps because they also star Adam Sandler). This viewing will be in no particular order but will commit fully to my Aniston attraction. This week, the mainly lamented and long gestating 2015 Bogdanovich comedy.

FILM: She’s Funny That Way  1384870-thumb-300xauto-1200514
DIRECTOR: Peter Bogdanovich
YEAR: 2015
PLOT SUMMARY: Screwball comedy about a call girl named Izzy (Imogen Poots) playing a call girl in a play directed by one of her client’s (Owen Wilson) and written by her therapist’s (Aniston) boyfriend (Will Forte), who’s father (George Morfogen) is a private investigator following Izzy for another of her clients, the obsessed Judge Pendergast (Austin Pendleton). It’s basically a lot of backstage shenanigans.
CHARACTER TRAITS: Dr Jane is confident, assertive, judgemental of her clients and constantly breaking patient-doctor confidentiality.

NOTES ON PERFORMANCE: Dr Jane’s character is key to the plot of She’s Funny That Way due to her habit of revealingshes-funny-that-way-dog-walk-clip-m4v-670 one patients problems to another, and Aniston seems to relish her tendency for rawness. She’s introduced having a fight with Forte’s Joshua Fleet on the street, pausing to shout at the annoying potential patient calling her mobile phone out of office hours (that pesky Judge). I particularly liked the line,  “Alright, I’m gonna change my tampon’’, which she says to the old judge while he’s in session with her. It’s a bit clunky – who says that?! But it demonstrates the character’s obliviousness and her self-confidence. Dr Jane doesn’t care what other people think of her, but she does judge them, and this contradiction is what makes her relatable and entertaining. Aniston is assured and controlled, making an (at first) very unlikeable character into the most interesting aspect of the film. While all the other characters slump into exactly the place you expect them to, Dr Jane remains the unpredictable element, seeming to have the most fun.

NOTES ON FILM: From a screenplay Bogdanovich wrote long ago with Louise Stratten, a long time in development and finally supported by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, whose own work demonstrates the influence of Bogdanovich’s earlier output. As a consequence the film has an unconsciously retro feel, and relies on some pretty fantastical plot points. If you love Bogdanovich (Noises Off, What’s Up Doc? The Last Picture Show), you’ll nevertheless appreciate it.

CONCLUSION: Aniston saves the day!