Jennifer Aniston: best comic actress of her generation?

Posted by · 4:36 pm · October 19th, 2009

Jennifer Aniston in The Good GirlApropos of nothing really, since the article is a week old and even I have no intention of seeing “Love Happens,” but my friend Jamie — who knows, albeit not very supportively, of my longstanding admiration for Jennifer Aniston — sent me this interesting Independent piece, and I thought I’d throw it out there.

As some of you may have read before, I’ve long held the belief that Aniston is a genuinely gifted actress — and I haven’t had an awful lot of company on that one. Ben Walsh, however, joins me on that limb, saluting her consistently valiant contributions to largely unworthy films:

These cynical, quite often facile films may lack depth, subtlety and, well, imagination, but Aniston never lets anybody down. In fact, now that Meg Ryan appears to have imploded, Aniston is probably – and this is a tad bold – the most gifted American comic actress of her generation. Her comic timing is immaculate and she could muster up playful sexual chemistry with a sideboard. And while her acting range isn’t huge, she’s never less than compelling.

I’m happy to see Walsh extend his defence beyond the two “respectable” titles in her filmography that even many haters grudgingly concede — “Office Space,” “Friends With Money” and, in particular, “The Good Girl.” As award-caliber as she was in the latter, her mettle is proved most effectively when she energizes formula material such as “Marley & Me” or “He’s Just Not That Into You” (though I still think the latter film undervalued).

Finally, Walsh calls for big-name directors to give her some counter-intuitive casting opportunities. Suggesting she work with Ken Loach is, of course, obtusely far-fetched, though perhaps that musical prison biopic has the goods. And call me insane, but should the film ever get made, I always thought she’d make a fine Denise in “The Corrections.”

Anyway, sorry for the brain leak. Amid the cineaste rigor of the London Film Festival, it can’t be all highbrow, all the time. Anybody agree? Any other actors you think aren’t being given enough of a chance?

→ 48 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

48 responses so far

  • 1 10-19-2009 at 5:00 pm

    David said...

    This is a very odd piece. Jen Aniston gets cast in a lot of rom-coms but she herself is not very much of a comic at all. If a comedy were a game of racquetball she would be the wall.

    I think she is well suited to sitcoms, and while not totally without talent, her acting chops don’t really translate to the big screen very well. I understand that many will disagree with this opinion, but it is a fair appraisal of her body of work. She seems sweet, but not really funny, and certainly not a good actress.

  • 2 10-19-2009 at 5:16 pm

    Dave Glanz said...

    She was also great in “Friends with Money”

  • 3 10-19-2009 at 5:19 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    O_O;; My comment didn’t show up, and this probably won’t either. Hope it’s just a glitch.

  • 4 10-19-2009 at 5:21 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    I can’t understand what it is about my response to your entry, but it won’t post….Help?

  • 5 10-19-2009 at 5:23 pm

    Joy Fountain said...

    Really liked her performances in “Friends with Money” and “Management”.

    I think Elisabeth Shue, Lili Taylor and Juliette Lewis all deserve a better career.

  • 6 10-19-2009 at 5:26 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    I’m afraid I have to side with David on this one. Perhaps it is because it seems no director has really challenged her or given her a decent role (with the possible exception of The Good Girl, where she was good but not great), but I have never been impressed with her acting chops.

    Take Office Space, for example, where she was far and away the least interesting and least funny character and her big quitting scene gives you the feeling that several actresses could have done it much better. Ditto for The Break-Up and Along Came Polly.

    The one time she ever expanded her range into darker material – Derailed – was a disaster.

    Maybe she’ll turn out a performance that will convert me, but until then my answer to this thread’s title is not even close.

  • 7 10-19-2009 at 5:26 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Sorry, James, I can’t find your comment in the system. Did it have a link in it?

  • 8 10-19-2009 at 5:29 pm

    Rae Kasey said...

    Most gifted American comic actress of her generation? No. Sorry, but that’s Sandra Bullock.

    Bullock doesn’t make great choices either, but I’d say she’s about a hundred times funnier than Aniston. If anyone deserves better parts, it’s her.

  • 9 10-19-2009 at 5:30 pm

    Darcy said...

    I disagree. I don’t think she did anything in her two meatiest parts, The Good Girl and Friends with Money. She’s one of those actresses that unfortunately mistakes depth with a blank, inexpressive face.

  • 10 10-19-2009 at 5:43 pm

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    Guy, I’ve always thought very highly of Aniston myself. I haven’t seen a lot of her films, though I did see “The Good Girl” and loved it.

    However, for any doubters, check out Jennifer Aniston in season 4 of “Friends” — when talent combines with sharp, funny comic writing. She is on fire in that season, and owns every episode. That should have been her Emmy year.

  • 11 10-19-2009 at 5:59 pm

    Glenn said...

    I always liked Aniston and still do, very much. Sure, I could do with less “Rumour Has It”s and such, but I actually thought she threw some really fine moments and pathos in “He’s Just Not That Into You” (possibly because she was the only realistic adult in the whole movie) and I’ve heard only good things about “Management” and look forward to seeing it when it eventually gets a direct-to-dvd release here based purely on Aniston’s name.

  • 12 10-19-2009 at 6:08 pm

    Dana Kaminski said...

    I am surprised at such accolades. Very. What comic chops, specifically, can you cite for such an exuberant award?

    I agree with commenter David that this is odd.
    I think Jennifer Aniston is one of those actresses that got a lucky break by being cast in an ensemble because she looked different than the other actresses; which is how ensembles, and often television, is cast.

    She can adequately say lines. I think she isn’t threatening to a lot of the people in Hollywood, and since she was on a hit television show, and then married a box office hunk, she gained some Hollywood mojo.

    I’ve always wondered what the fuss was about, and always wondered when the heck anyone would wake up. I wonder about your judgment. No offense. I just wonder what comic chops, specifically, you can cite. Then, I am willing to look again. I see little.

  • 13 10-19-2009 at 6:11 pm

    al b. said...

    Is it weird that whenever I think of Jennifer Aniston, its always of her in Leprechaun! I mean, that’s just me!

  • 14 10-19-2009 at 6:20 pm

    Georgie said...

    I definitely agree that Sandra Bullock is the most gifted American comic actress of her generation.

    What bothers me about Aniston is that she seems to play Rachel in every single movie… which I liked/almost loved in Friends, but now is just boring. Give me an actress that takes risks over one that stays in her niche any day of the week.

  • 15 10-19-2009 at 6:25 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Best comic actress of her generation is insulting to comic actresses from generations before her who are actually funny.

  • 16 10-19-2009 at 6:38 pm

    tintin said...

    The best? What? jajaja

  • 17 10-19-2009 at 6:40 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Nope, no link. Perhaps it was the heart symbol? Lemme try it without:

    I completely agree with you, Guy. I remember watching “Friends” when it first aired and being instantly struck by how immensely appealing and charming she was. While Lisa Kudrow garnered the most laughter, Jennifer Aniston commanded the most attention. I think she is very underrated (as is the talented Paul Rudd) in “The Object of My Affection”. Stunted as she may be in the range department, sometimes people seem to imply that she’s on a lower tier of actors and actresses, when I think she’s at least low in the middle tier. She has capabilities that probably need the right material to flourish, and her work in the past half-decade has been primarily phoned-in projects. In “The Good Girl”, she proved herself a nice, subtle performer (although if you ask me, Zooey Deschanel stole the show effortlessly). But I’m in her camp, and on your side of this issue.

  • 18 10-19-2009 at 6:41 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Ahhh, yes! It was the “less than 3” after Zooey Deschanel that must’ve caused it to vanish. How bizarre, because I’ve used it previously in a comment on here. Oh well, there it is–me agreeing with you.

  • 19 10-19-2009 at 6:48 pm

    Homero said...

    I have no clue who else would be considered in “her generation” but I would love to see a list so we could compare. Though she’s given a lot of comedic roles, she’s never been the funniest person in any of her movies.

  • 20 10-19-2009 at 7:32 pm

    McGuff said...

    Guy, I wonder what you thought of her in Derailed, which feels like a film she failed to elevate. I don’t think a lot was there, but I do think a better actress could have sold it better.

    Here’s to hoping that roles come aplenty for Kristen Wiig (she’s not from Canada, is she?), who I think could handle a dramedy part wonderfully.

  • 21 10-19-2009 at 7:37 pm

    Mike said...

    I would have to say Sandra Bullock, but I think that Reese Witherspoon is comes in second. Also there is Drew Barrymore, but I don’t know if she is considered in thei generation. If either Jennifer or Sandra ever got a role like Reese Witherspoon had in Walk the Line, they would be slam dunks for nominations and maybe even win because everyone likes them so much.

  • 22 10-19-2009 at 7:57 pm

    Chris138 said...

    She’s a solid actress who gets casted in a lot of lame movies. That’s how I see her career.

  • 23 10-19-2009 at 7:58 pm

    Chris138 said...

    No idea why I wrote ‘casted’… definitely meant to say ‘cast’.

  • 24 10-19-2009 at 8:15 pm

    Aaron said...

    I agree with you Mike, that Reese Witherspoon is an incredibly gifted comic actress. Her comic timing in Election was deadly–completely award worthy, too bad it didn’t get recognized.

    Many will laugh, but Witherspoon also elevated Legally Blonde to a status the film didn’t deserve. Ditto to Sandra Bullock and The Proposal–that movie was about as original as a rock, but she made it absolutely hilarious (IMO).

    I’ve always thought Jennifer Aniston is mediocre. To say she has any range at all is ridiculous. She plays “Rachel” in every single movie, and while at times that may work, it’s not all creative.

  • 25 10-19-2009 at 8:18 pm

    Marshall1 said...

    To me, the best comedic actress on movie and TV is definitely Tina Fey. Yes, I think she doesn’t have the most versatility, but I think her timing is absolutely perfect. Watch her 30 Rock Season 4 finale, when she talks about Me-Cat (???), priceless….

  • 26 10-19-2009 at 8:19 pm

    Marshall1 said...

    I do like pre-Brad Pitt Aniston though, she is usually good, but I don’t think she’s great.

  • 27 10-19-2009 at 8:27 pm

    Satya said...

    Funny, I was watching “Rumor Has It” a few hours ago. Even though the plot gives me the creeps (lame movie as Chris said), Aniston’s subtle comic acting is top notch. The way she sizes up Kevin Costner when she sees him at close range for the first time is priceless. Her acting in Friends is one of the reasons why I keep watching those episodes again and again. I think that she is the best comic star, if not the best comic “actress”, of her generation.

  • 28 10-19-2009 at 10:24 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    And I was hoping we’d be able to avoid such cheese as Love Happens to the death.

  • 29 10-20-2009 at 12:32 am

    Jim T said...

    Aniston is just note-perfect. A great comedian but she can convey sadness very effectively as well.

  • 30 10-20-2009 at 1:44 am

    Brooke said...

    For me, Aniston’s slamdunk as an actress came in an episode of Friends where Ross is trying to stop her from finding out about him cheating on her. Then it comes to the end and we just see her, lost, defeated, hurt face. It’s beautiful.

  • 31 10-20-2009 at 2:40 am

    slayton said...

    Her performance in “Friends with Money” is so layered and emotionally lucid… it’s my #3 of the year (which isn’t at all a bad thing, seeing as both she and my #1 and #2 slot nicely into my Top 25 list of actress’s performances this ecade).

    The defining points in her FwM performance are:
    when she gives Scott Caan’s character the money that he asks for after he “helps” her with her cleaning job. Just her expression and movement in that scene gives you an entire backstory, 15 years of failed relationships and never feeling good enough to keep a guy on her own terms.
    The other is the exchange with her new boyfriend near the end of the film. When she asks him why he haggled with her for her price.

    I love that film. So insightful and delicate. Not much happens, but that isn’t really the point…

  • 32 10-20-2009 at 3:30 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Glad to see people sticking up for her work in “Friends With Money” too. Pretty formidable ensemble there, and I still think she was the pick of it.

  • 33 10-20-2009 at 4:01 am

    Andrew said...

    I just want to puke now.

    Jennifer Aniston always plays Rachel Green. Her range is limited and she does not seem to get over her Friends’ years.

  • 34 10-20-2009 at 5:38 am

    jess said...

    To me that title should go to Reese Witherspoon, who should do more Elections than Four Christmases.

  • 35 10-20-2009 at 5:43 am

    Mike said...

    What about Julia Roberts?

  • 36 10-20-2009 at 6:17 am

    Alex said...

    Reese Witherspoon is probably the most versatile, performing masterfully in both Election or Legally Blonde.

    While she languished in both Bewitched and Stepford Wives, you can’t overlook Nicole Kidman’s talents in To Die For and Margot at the Wedding. I guess her tastes hew a little darker than most.

    Deed down she was probably laughing in Eyes Wide Shut.

  • 37 10-20-2009 at 6:29 am

    Frank said...

    I’m not the biggest Aniston fan, but she deserves all the credit in the world for The Break-Up. I’ve caught it on cable a few times since it came out, and it holds up really well.

    I think it was received with mixed repsonses because people expected a laugh-a-minute Vince Vaughn comedy, but instead they got mostly thoughtful dramedy more like a Woody Allen or James L. Brooks film. For my money, Aniston owns the film and gives her greatest performance to date. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that in a weaker year, it would have been worthy of Oscar consideration (although I know that would have never happened).

  • 38 10-20-2009 at 8:00 am

    slayton said...

    As I’ve said before, Aniston is a great actress, but as far as out-and-out comedy goes, I’d say Parker Posey is the best of her generation.

    Witherspoon is a bit later, and seems to have lost the comic spark that set her apart in films like Freeway, Election and Legally Blonde!

  • 39 10-20-2009 at 11:07 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I think Aniston is talented but no mention of Anna Faris in this conversation?

  • 40 10-20-2009 at 12:08 pm

    EmsF said...

    I am a big fan. I think she’s great at what she does, very likeable and effortlessly charming. I think that now the likes of Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock are seemingly taking on less leading roles (I know we’ve had Duplicity, The Proposal and All About Steve but what had they really done in the few years leading up to those films?), the reigning actresses are Aniston and Reese Witherspoon who I think will continue to battle it out for a while yet. Although we are seeing up and comers such as Emily Blunt and Amy Adams. I think Aniston is deservedly among the top

  • 41 10-20-2009 at 3:59 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    I knew I forgot somebody. Anna Faris is hysterical. Despite how progressively worse they’ve gotten, I still see the [i]Scary Movie[/i] franchise because of her and Regina Hall, who crack me up endlessly. But Faris has really managed to carve herself out a nice career with her antics (although I haven’t seen at least half of her movies). Always loved her though, and hoped she’d get a bigger, more challenging role someday.

  • 42 10-20-2009 at 4:48 pm

    lac said...

    If you had simply asked who is the best comic actress of the 90’s and 2000, I doubt Aniston would have come in top 5. She is a good side kick. Not a leading lady.

  • 43 10-21-2009 at 9:24 pm

    the black mythbuster said...

    I don’t see it. All I see is Rachel Green when she’s on the screen. I think her range is limited but she gets more credit than she deserves because she played the lovable Rachel for 10 years. Give me Sandra, Reese, Julia, and about 20 other actresses before Aniston’s name comes up. Even then she probably wouldn’t make #21 on my list.

  • 44 10-22-2009 at 1:38 pm

    Dana Kaminski said...

    The more I think about this, the more irked I become. I think we need to raise the bar, here, A LOT. We need to really take a concise look at our standard of acting. Separately, at our standard of good high-level comedy acting.
    And then our gender-different standards for good acting/ good comedic acting.

    No offense, please: but the original writer, this one for In Contention, and In Contention, also; seriously took an intellectual, and respectable, fall with this article, and all the subsequent discussion.

    You are saying that Aniston is the Buster Keaton of our generation? A Bill Murray in “Caddyshack”? If you can’t define any acting chops, or comedic examples; can you remember any time the audience was laughing so loud, that you couldn’t hear the next line?

    I am a bit angry. You make acting look as shallow and talent-less as it’s worst detractors perceive it. You make all of us online writers look second-string and as low-level as Internet-critics want us to be.

  • 45 10-22-2009 at 1:41 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Dana: Way too harsh. God forbid someone have an opinion.

  • 46 10-22-2009 at 1:43 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    By the way, does The Independent, a largely respected paper of influence in the UK, take an “intellectual, and respectable” fall as well? Since, you know, that’s the article Guy is referencing here and includes the copy “comic actress of her generation.”

  • 47 10-22-2009 at 2:15 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Dana: As Kris says, you’re reacting far too earnestly to a post that was meant to be in fun. And I’d like to reiterate that the title of the post quotes the Independent article, posing it as a question rather than a statement.

    (Highly talented as I think Aniston is, my own answer to the question would probably be no: when she has — or had, rather — the right material, Reese Witherspoon is extraordinary.)

    Anyway, I eagerly await your response to my follow-up article. Coming soon: “Megan Fox: best dramatic actress of her generation?”

  • 48 10-22-2009 at 6:49 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Actually, Dana, I find that Guy’s having an pparently controversial opinion, such as this, makes him more relatable to readers.

    Also, see you next Thursday.