At The Movies: Life of Crime

20 years after Friends hit our screens, Phil Rhys Thomas looks at Jennifer Aniston’s latest film and wonders why this leading actor isn’t getting more of a lead

When Jennifer Aniston was in Friends, she was pretty much the star of the show. The others had their funny moments, but she was the one whose entrance you waited for, whose haircut got copied, whose comic timing lit up the screen. Confident, sexy and headstrong, you felt there was a bit of Rachel Green in Aniston already, and a lot of Aniston in Rachel Green. Of course, with a weekly show the scriptwriters had plenty of opportunity – and a decade – to get to know the person and learn how to show her best side to camera. Now that she’s a movie star, however, things have changed. In the merry-go-round of Hollywood film casting, scriptwriters probably don’t have much of an idea who’s going to end up in any role they create – or the time to tweak it to fit.

Which is what’s so puzzling about Life of Crime, a movie that Aniston not only stars in but also produces – surely her behind-the-scenes job would have given writer/director Daniel Schechter forewarning to tweak, tweak and tweak again. Based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, Aniston plays Mickey Dawson, a put-upon housewife whose country-club lifestyle is turned upside-down when a get-rich-quick scheme results in her kidnapping. The film is an almost postmodern caper, full of the plot twists, double crossings and noirish touches the genre demands, with the added benefit of being a period piece released into a world that’s already seen Anchorman. But it’s also about relationships, and the ragtag collection of inferior men Aniston’s character is surrounded by.

Jennifer-Aniston-Friends“Somehow, the small screen’s first violin has so far spent her post-Friends years playing film’s second fiddle”

As a portrait of affluent middle-class America in the late 1970s, Life of Crime looks spot on. And as a warning to anyone who’s thinking about an affair, it does a good job of showing what can happen when things go totally, utterly wrong. Perhaps as a result of Stockholm syndrome, Mickey’s most enduring relationship is with the kindly kidnapper who protects her from the advances of the fat Nazi in whose house she’s kept captive. Her husband, an abusive philandering drunk, is threatening in a way that might get results with another type of character, just not this one. And the pathetic man with whom she contemplates her own affair is so ill matched it’s like watching a Jack Russell trying to pull an Afghan hound.[/one_half]The problem is, Aniston isn’t a housewife, let alone a put-upon one – she is the most un-mousey Mickey in the US. What she really is, is one of Hollywood’s most profitable actresses, and a producer, director and businesswoman – and it shows, because when the script requires her to be subservient to the menfolk it doesn’t really work. It never has. When she’s allowed to be funny, on the other hand (which is when she’s also assertive), the old Aniston magic shines through and you remember why she spent 10 years at the top of TV.

Somehow, the small screen’s first violin has so far spent her post-Friends years playing film’s second fiddle. But it doesn’t have to be this way: as a performer with flawless comic timing and pitch-perfect delivery, Aniston just needs the right roles to steal the show once again. It’s the type of crime an audience could easily forgive.

Life of Crime is out now