Jennifer Aniston has a new movie, a new look and an old problem. The film, Life of Crime, has been well reviewed, and the style mags have praised the straight-cut hairdo she showed off at the premiere, but no one cares about that any more, because Brad Pitt, the actor who dumped Jen nine years ago, has married the woman he left her for, Angelina Jolie.
Last week, although she offered no reaction to the nuptials, Aniston was variously reported to be "distraught", "numbed", and – alarmingly – "finally at peace." Don't panic; this is how things are in the life of the actress whose real-life role of woman scorned continues to vastly out-dollar anything she manages on screen.
Two schools of thought emerged. One was that Angelina, in best Hollywood superbitch tradition, had spitefully timed the wedding to overshadow Jen's movie opening. The counter-theory was that the Pitts had done Jen a big favour by assuring her global publicity at an opportune time, and that this must be a sign of atonement.
What to believe? It is never easy to know in the case of the 45-year-old blonde, killer-bodied Aniston, daughter of a Greek soap star, who tends to be perceived less as a human being than as a metaphor for all the woes of the modern female condition. These include abandonment, childlessness, enslavement to body-image pressures, the difficulty of saying anything serious without being ridiculed for it, and the failure to find a replacement husband – although she is currently, if shakily, engaged to actor Justin Theroux.
Jennifer can only complain so much. The awkward truth is that when she was on our screens every week in the smash-hit sitcom Friends, no one paid her a vast amount of attention. Even when she married Brad in 2000 after meeting him on a blind date, she was considered by far the less consequential. It was only five years later, when her husband fell into the ravening clutches of the spookily beautiful Angelina, that her fortunes changed. Puffy-lipped, and partial to drinking her lovers' blood, Jolie had previously been married to the oddball actor Billy Bob Thornton. Poor Jencouldn't compete.
Her humiliation touched the hearts of millions, and in her misery and bewilderment Jennifer cut an irresistibly poignant figure, a good woman crushed between a more glamorous rival and a pitiless man. Female fans were outraged, and many continue to resent Angelina occupying Jennifer's place at Brad's side. Thus the lives of all three have taken on the character of a slow-burning love triangle – painful, complicated, and obliging the rest of us to take sides. While the public's interest in Hollywood's romantic follies tends to be fleeting, this one wafts on like a guilty secret.
Her performance in Life of Crime has won rave reviews, but to most audiences her natural habitat remains loopy rom-coms, offbeat dramas and fashionable Beverly Hills coffee shops where, in paparazzi photographs, she tends to look disobligingly happy. Last week she complained about being asked why she still wasn't a mother, but made something of a psycho-babbly hash of it, saying: "I've birthed a lot of things, and I feel I've mothered many things and I don't think it is fair to put that kind of expectation on people." Nor is she inclined to indicate when her engagement to Justin – now approaching two years – might lead to the altar.
If anyone can cut us free from the past, from the brooding, from the recrimination, it is Aniston herself, and this could be her moment. The sympathies she enjoys are largely based on the perception that, beyond the enviable advantages of stardom, she is good-hearted, hard-working, likeable and aware of her limitations, but has taken a big knock in life. Instead of cancelling interviews, a smarter strategy might be to begin the next one by saying how happy she is for her ex and his new wife, and that she holds no grudges and doesn't want her fans to either. Then we'll know that she's truly as decent as they say she is.
The Telegraph, London