In the final act of the film War Games, the renegade program “Joshua” has taken control over NORAD‘s central super-computer WOPR. The program runs through scenario after scenario, plan after plan and tactic upon tactic to win the game – being a nuclear war. The command center lights up, with the large screen above strobing the array of digital war games, each demonstration ending in failure. We will return to this scene later on.
It is hard not to like Jennifer Aniston, even though the latest fairly unsubstantiated news of her using a racial slur against a woman of Asian descent is disconcerting. The excuse given: it was the booze talking. My response to that: it didn’t work for Mel. If this is true, it won’t work for Jen either. But she will still maintain a degree of likability, and it is not hard to lend your sympathy to her. It is something not directly transmitted, but interpreted, through her choices of movie roles. I don’t recall off the top of my head a part she’s played that was thoroughly without redeeming qualities. Even when the characters are at their most conflicted, even when they should be more shrill, assertive, or downright evil, they wind up being lovable. One interprets the pathology of Aniston’s choices of roles being that she just doesn’t like characters like those.
The side effect is that she has left a filmography of toothless romantic comedies in her wake, none of which have served her career particularly well. Her next venture is Just Go With It, starring Adam Sandler as a lascivious horndog and Aniston as his friend with children. He borrows his best friend’s brood to bag the busty beach babe, but it doesn’t take a fortune teller to guess he’ll fall for the more grounded, less shallow Aniston in the end. This plot thread has been woven into movies for as long as there have been movies; certainly long before Hughes and Deutch’s Some Kind of Wonderful.
I understand why she’s trapped in rom-coms, at least to some degree, and just as Aniston’s latest bears striking resemblance to other films, so does her life. She is not the first actress to have been on the losing end of a triangle, an American sweetheart who loses her husband to the raven-haired seductress with a reputation, only Debbie Reynolds had a child when Eddie Fisher hooked up with Elizabeth Taylor. Aniston never had a baby with Brad Pitt, but now that Angelina Jolie has been collecting kids like baseball cards, I’m sure she could spare Jen some doubles from her deck.
It is unfair to lash out against Aniston’s more recent bouts of exhibitionism though. The celeb followers say it is a desperate cry for attention from Pitt, as if to shout at him from across the crowded supermarket, “Look what you’re missing out on, baby.” That gives way too much power to Pitt, and has the effect of making Aniston seem unstable or, worse, like the stalker-ish girl who had the best ‘stuff’ ever and can’t get it in her head that it is over. That, in and of itself, is a demeaning impression being heaped upon her. Had she not been married to Pitt once, her cover for GQ or some of her other appearances would have been viewed as a form of empowerment. It would be read as, “just because you’re 40+ doesn’t mean you’re dead.” And yet the tabloids and star-watchers easily interpret this as a wildly inappropriate acting-out of the nyaah-nyaahs, leaving one to ask what Aniston should be doing – should she not be a public person? Should she hide under thick sweaters and glower at the cameras to show how “deep,” and “scarred,” and “ready for the rest of her life” she is?
By the same token, however, her constant focus on the romantic comedy as preferred role of choice, the flaying of every screwball trope, and the half-imparted desire to work through all of them to find “the real thing” has passed its own freshness date; it did that a long time ago. Adversaries are forced to work together, get to know each other, find love. Fail! Next!
Couple meets-cute, experiences trouble along the way, overcomes adversity and finds love. Fail! Next!
Friends fall into plot contrivance, realize they’ve always been more than friends, and find love. Fail! Next!
Strangers bump into each other and spend the next 80 minutes trying to find each other again. They do, and fall in love. Fail! Next! …and so on.
It occurred to me that this is a lot less like Aniston playing it safe in the shallow, familiar end of the pool than it is like Joshua piledriving war game, after war game, after war game, lookingÂ for the crack in the strategic armor, to break the opponent’s front and to win. It also occurred to me that the movie War Games, which in two years will reach the ripe age of thirty, is so much better than most of Aniston’s films (I don’t count the always terrific Office Space, which is instead a film featuring Jennifer Aniston, not a film starring her).
But if I had the ability to offer a small piece of advice to her, it would be that Joshua realized the game was not winnable, and if the psychology of her choices in film roles is to live vicariously through characters that win, find love in the end and do not fail, that’s hardly a page out of reality. It’s time for her to break the cycle and try something new, mostly for herself and the career she could have. It’s certainly not for the moviegoer who, at this stage of the war game, has already pulled Joshua’s plug.