A fledgling film distributor announced Monday that it will sneak a little indie film you’ve never heard of into theaters before the end of the year – and suddenly the show biz world was abuzz. Why? Because an under-the-wire release date is a traditional indicator that producers see a film as having awards potential. And it appears that Cinelou Releasing is betting “Cake” just might finally be the Oscar role for its lead actress – Jennifer Aniston, our most paradoxical movie star.
Picturing the former “Friends” star as an Academy Award nominee is almost as strange as learning that she was the third highest paid actress from June 2013 to June 2014. She still acts, sure, but $31 million worth?
Just compare her year to the A-listers who surpassed her: Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Lawrence both snagged Oscar nominations for performances that required channeling a full spectrum of emotions. And Lawrence was the star of 2013’s biggest money-maker, “Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” which raked in more than $860 million worldwide.
Aniston, meanwhile, starred in “We’re the Millers,” the surprise hit comedy where she played a stripper posing as a wholesome mom in order to transport drugs across the border from Mexico.
Aniston’s annual haul makes more sense when you consider her diversified sources of revenue: “Friends” reruns and endorsements for Aveeno and Vitamin Water. After all, what she’s most known for (now that the whole Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie hullabaloo has died down – and it has finally, right?) is playing Rachel Green and maintaining a preternaturally lovely face and toned body.
Despite waves of hype going back 20 years to her days as Must See TV’s breakout ingenue, Aniston has never managed to prove herself a Star the way Bullock has, carrying a movie while floating alone in space, or Lawrence, believably leading a coup against the Capitol of Panem. Rarely is Aniston the sole focus of a film. She stars in movies that revolve around couples – failed relationships, fledgling relationships or, in one case, a relationship with a Labrador retriever. No one says, “Let’s go see the new Jennifer Aniston movie.” They say, “wasn’t Jennifer Aniston funny as a stripper in that drug movie?”
There’s one obvious exception when it comes to Aniston’s filmography, the one critics and fans always bring up: “The Good Girl.” In that understated performance, the actress played a makeup counter worker in a loveless marriage who starts a fling with a much younger co-worker, and Aniston proved what an incredible range she has in the right role. The spotlight was squarely on her for a change. She wasn’t one part of an ensemble, as on “Friends,” nor one half of a couple as she’s been in every movie since. The fact that Aniston boosters are still crowing about “The Good Girl” 12 years later tells you all you need to know about what Aniston has done since. (You don’t hear them still proclaiming how amazing Meryl Streep was in “The Hours.”)
Aniston is returning to her most “Good Girl”-like role with “Cake,” another downbeat movie, but with a more incisive dose of sarcastic comedy. How likely is it that Aniston, already an Emmy and Golden Globe winner for “Friends,” might snag a nomination from the Academy? The role does have one element that other glamorous stars, from Charlize Theron to Anne Hathaway, have employed in their path to a trophy, and that’s dressing down. Way down. Aniston wiped clean her Aveeno-approved visage to play Claire, a woman with anger to spare. She’s in constant debilitating pain, which has led to a pain pill addiction, and she wears oversized sweaters, never styling her greasy brown hair. She looks entirely unremarkable except for some facial scars that hint at how she ended up in such physical agony.
The narrative concerns her obsession with the suicide of one of her peers in a chronic pain support group, and other than the ghost of that woman (played by Anna Kendrick), Claire doesn’t really have anyone to turn to. She gets kicked out of the group due to her lack of verbal filter and she’s estranged from her husband, played by Chris Messina. The closest thing she has to a friend is someone she pays to hang around: her housekeeper, played by Adriana Barraza.
The movie received a standing ovation when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, but got mixed reviews from critics (all of whom nevertheless praised Aniston’s performance).
It’s likely Cinelou made its last-minute move after detecting some weakness in the best-actress race – the latest manifestation of Hollywood’s dearth of strong female roles. Still, Aniston will go up against stiff competition this year from past Oscar nominees Amy Adams for “Big Eyes,” Julianne Moore for “Still Alice” and Jessica Chastain in “A Most Violent Year,” not to mention Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon for “Wild.”
Aniston would also have to battle it out against buzzed about up-and-comers Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything”) and Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”).
In the end, an Oscar nod might be a long shot. But to see Aniston opting to step out in front of the camera without the crutch of an ensemble or significant other is, in itself, a win.