How Jennifer Aniston managed to stay relevant through her illustrious Hollywood and TV career
Despite several of her films bombing in the 15 years since Friends ended, Jennifer Aniston has had a continuous run in Hollywood without any breaks.
Before Rachel Green from the sitcom Friends became a household name, Jennifer Aniston was cleaning toilets. And she was actually pretty good at it.
But since then, her life has turned around so many broken corners and unpredictable bends, that us mere mortals are left wondering, “How did she endure all of that!”
At 50 this year, Aniston is indeed quite fabulous.
In Netflix’s Murder Mystery, a comedy whodunit co-starring Adam Sandler and Luke Evans that released on 5 June, Aniston may not be sporting the iconic “The Rachel” hairstyle – bouncy, side parted, short, layered look that later gave way to poker straight blonde hair, parted through the centre perfectly framing her angular face – but she looks charming as ever. She's also consistently been a part of films, of all kinds, since Friends wrapped up in 2004.
Professionally and personally, Aniston is the epitome of resilience. An infamous 2006 interview by Vanity Fair even declared her “unsinkable” after her divorce with Brad Pitt had left her emotionally battered. Aniston fell, picked herself up, and moved on.
She had the good grace to never badmouth her ex husband even as the whole world had an opinion on the Jennifer-Brad-Angelina drama, especially when he was seen gallivanting with Jolie very soon after their divorce.
Aniston’s faith in marriage had been shaken as a young girl when her parents divorced and she shared an estranged relationship with her mother Nancy Dow for a decade, after Dow published her book From Mother and Daughter to Friends: A Memoir in 1999. Aniston didn’t invite her for her wedding and admittedly had no regrets.
Leslie Bennett, in the Vanity Fair interview, wrote, “Although Aniston incurred criticism for distancing herself from her mother, who did not attend her wedding, she offers no apologies. ‘I feel pretty good about the choices I’ve made. The choice of not speaking to Mom for a while—that’s ours. Nobody else has to understand it.’”
She had an extravagant wedding in Malibu where a lavish sum was spent on flowers alone. She was living the high life with money she made while working on Friends, which ran for a good decade, and was one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood making $1 million per episode of Friends. Her divorce with Pitt came around the same time her tryst with the sitcom came to an end in 2004. But Aniston was undeniable. She owned her vulnerabilities and emotions. Nobody and nothing could break her.
After Friends ended, Aniston felt a great sense of loss. But soon she was back on her feet and Along Came Polly (2004) released around the same time Friends aired its final season, and Bruce Almighty a year earlier (2003). Both had already become box office hits.
Over the next few years, several of her movies tanked including The Switch, Rumor Has It, and Love Happens. She was seen in films such as The Break-Up, Marley & Me, He’s Just Not That Into You, Just Go With It, and We’re The Millers – all of which were in the romantic comedy/drama genres, and her work in these movies often typecast her as an actress who was only fit for light, comedic roles. None of these films were extraordinary, and people were noticing.
While Aniston may have made poor choices, she has also played it safe. These films weren’t, by any means, great, but they were still sappy, funny, and had that feel-good factor that her audience takes for granted.
She remains relevant largely because Friends was such a hit and she made sure to ride on the success of the memorable Rachel Green, bagging herself roles that were an extension of her Friends’ character instead of opting for serious ones. There always seemed to be a glimpse of Rachel in her films, drawing the viewer to familiar territory.
She carries the legacy of Rachel Green that people find hard to shake off and Aniston’s identity as Rachel Green was what gave her a foothold in Hollywood. By deliberately not being too versatile in terms of genres she has experimented with, Aniston has aced the girl-next-door character while also being unique and fresh with every role.
Her latest film, Murder Mystery, is far from extraordinary – it’s a standard comedy mystery about Audrey (Aniston) who yearns for a more romantic relationship with her husband, Nick (Sandler). On holiday aboard a yacht in Europe on the invitation of a stranger Charles (Luke Evans) whom they meet on a plane, Audrey and Nick find themselves as prime suspects in the murder of Charles’ billionaire uncle.
While it offered a visual treat in the meandering coast roads of Monaco and luxurious cabins in the billionaire’s yacht, unfortunately the film’s storyline is two decades too late for 2019. Still, Aniston manages to shine through simply because she’s gotten so good at playing the typical romcom protagonist, and is probably the only thing that works in favour of Murder Mystery. She’s romantic, sweet, beautiful, smart, and helps her husband solve the mystery in the end. She never makes a mistake, has great comic timing, and is nearly perfect. Now, who wouldn’t love a character like that?
Despite several of her films bombing in the 15 years since Friends ended, Jennifer Aniston has had a continuous run in Hollywood without any breaks. Sure, she may have passed the baton to next generation actresses like Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Watson, Emma Stone, and Brie Larson to name a few, but she’s never had any down time that she’d have to make a “comeback”.
In an industry that is constantly changing and evolving, Aniston has managed to stay not just afloat, but also relevant.
A lot of it has to do with the person she is. Before her big break in Hollywood, Aniston was bullied in high school and suffers from dyslexia that was only diagnosed in her 20s. She revealed that her mother, who was a model, was very critical of Aniston’s appearance because she herself was very stunning. She was forced to deal with grief and bitterness at a very early age.
Her experiences made her adaptable to the different kinds of situations she found herself in. When she and Pitt – America’s darling couple – split, stories of Pitt’s possible infidelity with Jolie were surfacing. Aniston never aired her dirty laundry in public and she maintained a dignified distance from the press. This gained her major brownie points from a lot of viewers and it has surprisingly stuck through.
Hollywood’s golden girl has, in the long 32 years of her career, persevered and persisted with a ton of patience and no inclination to give up. But no other series or film in her career has been as successful or iconic as Friends. It is perhaps her only work to receive cult status.
To many, Aniston will always be Rachel Green.
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