Tuesday, January 26, 2016
What did Jen have to do?
This post also could have been entitled "I finally saw: Cake," not because going so long without seeing a movie that was released about a year ago was a big shock, but that for this particular movie it sort of was, since my wife was involved in the screening competition from which the writer of Cake emerged -- with Cake as the winning script in that competition and attracting the attention of Jennifer Aniston. (The director is also an alum, making it sort of a double win for that organization.)
Thinking of it sort of as her baby (my wife's baby, not Jennifer Aniston's), and it being available for viewing on Netflix months ago, it did seem like kind of a long delay for us to eventually sit down with it. But that we did on Monday night.
And after finishing it, I'm finding myself wondering why the Oscar nomination I prognosticated for Jen in this post never transpired. (I wasn't just nominating her in that post, which I thought was a foregone conclusion -- I was giving her the damn award, sight unseen.)
What did she have to do, anyway?
She did what you have to do -- she uglied herself up. But then she also gave a really assured, angry, touching performance. It may have been a calculated attempt at accolades, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't have worked.
Yet she had to be content with that Golden Globe nomination. Oscar didn't come knocking at her door.
I've always thought Aniston was a good actor who was just choosing beneath her. When you're that type of person, you get a lot of rom-coms thrown in your face, and those are the ones that tend to carry the big paychecks. As much as you're addicted to the idea of accolades, you're also addicted to the creature comforts provided by big paydays.
Aniston made her share of those movies. She did her time.
But she's also been showing us what she could do throughout. I think specifically of a film like The Break-Up, one of those typical rom-coms that the people involved transgressively turned on its head. (At least, I don't think the marketing department knew it wasn't really a romantic comedy.) Aniston pours her all into a story about a relationship with Vince Vaughn that doesn't work out. The stakes are a lot lower than they are in a movie like Cake, but Aniston doesn't care here. She respects the material and she shows you how the workaday inattentions and betrayals of the person you think you love can really cut you. That performance kind of destroyed me, actually.
Aniston doesn't do as much destruction in Cake, maybe -- but it seems like maybe a more challenging type of destruction. She plays a woman in a support group who is basically awful to everyone around her, not only the other group members, but her live-in maid and her estranged husband. She's got a good reason for it that Cake smartly reveals by degrees. But Aniston's got to make the character pretty unlikable before she can become likable, and that she does. I'm not going to do her the indignity of going and searching the web to figure out how much weight she put on for the role, but it was just enough that this is not the glamorous tabloid fixture we know and love. This is a scarred woman, both literally and figuratively. They aren't pretty scars, either -- either literally or figuratively.
So I wonder why the Oscars didn't find a spot for her in the nominations? I guess we have to look at the other 2014 nominees to try to find out:
- Julianne Moore, Still Alice - Eventual winner. No way she's giving up her spot among the five nominees.
- Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night - Powerhouse performance in the role of a woman struggling with some of the things Cake's Claire struggles with. She can stay.
- Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything - I still haven't seen this one, but my skepticism about the type of movie it is also makes me skeptical about how good Jones could possibly be in it. Nominating the actress opposite Eddie Redmayne in one of his nominated roles seems to be a thing, as Alicia Vikander was also nominated opposite Redmayne in The Danish Girl this year -- and I also suspect that to be a certain type of movie (though I also have not seen it).
- Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl - I stand by my assertion that Pike is not a good actress. But she does career-best work in a movie that had everyone's tongues wagging. She can stay too.
- Reese Witherspoon, Wild - Not having seen this either, I'm sure this was a fine performance. I'm not sure it was more than that.
So Aniston could have taken the spot of either Jones or Witherspoon, if only in the latter case because Witherspoon already has an Oscar (and I think it's fair when the wealth is spread on these awards). On that basis you could also exclude Cotillard, but I'm loath to do that simply because she was so damn good in Two Days, One Night.
And yeah, I'm kicking out the only two nominees whose work I haven't seen, which is always dangerous. But I still think Aniston deserved a slot.
Is Aniston not popular enough with her fellow members of the acting branch? I tend to think of Jennifer Aniston as a well-liked celebrity, but maybe not. Maybe Angelina Jolie put out a hit on Aniston's nomination chances, threatening anyone who voted for Aniston that they can never talk to Brad Pitt again.
Anyway, I do think it's a bit of a shame as these roles don't just come along every day. Aniston will be turning 47 in two weeks, and pretty soon she won't even have to ugly herself up anymore. (That's a claim based entirely on the linguistic serendipity of being able to call back to something I wrote earlier, not a reality based in fact.) Okay, so Aniston will still be gorgeous for a while yet, but will she be offered the right roles? Or have the shrewdness to find them herself? Then again, she does figure to be offered fewer and fewer rom-coms ... not only because of her age, but because those rom-coms don't really exist in the same way they did just a few years ago. When Aniston was still in her so-called prime.
Because not every role gets you something as meaty to sink your teeth into as Cake. Sarah Silverman just tried it this year with I Smile Back. And while her instincts on how to play that character were beyond reproach, nothing else about the story or the script could be described that same way.
It takes a lot to line up for you to ever even get a nomination, let alone win the damn thing. And Aniston would join a perfectly respectable -- nay, a downright exclusive -- club of people who never have. Nor would she even have the same convincing list of roles that should have won the elusive prize as many of the others in that club.
But I don't know, I think back to those tear-streaked, hopeless monologues of frustrated generosity of spirit from The Break-Up, and think that I'd like to see the efforts of one of my unabashed soft spots finally rewarded.
Jen should one day have her Cake and eat it too.