Jennifer Aniston And The Rage Of Middle-Aged Stardom

Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed Information; Courtesy Apple TV

After we first meet Alex Levy, the morning present host performed by Jennifer Aniston, she’s trying to get up and start the regime of stardom at 3:30 a.m. She begins the espresso and opens a Purple Bull, then fumbles to the treadmill, the world nonetheless pitch-black round her, and makes an attempt to stroll whereas resting her head on the management panel. She locations under-eye masks on her darkish circles, scrutinizes her face, jade rolls, and scrutinizes once more. She will get into the elevator and rests her head again — exhausted. As she will get within the black automobile that takes her to the studio, her face purses in annoyance as they drive previous an enormous billboard of her smiling.

It’s the primary trace of what The Morning Present, now streaming on Apple TV+, will spend the season unpacking: There’s the composed, cheerful, public Alex, and the deeply exhausted, deeply pissed-off particular person behind the masks.

And all that is earlier than the present’s government producer, Chip (Mark Duplass), tells Alex that her cohost, Mitch (Steve Carell), has been fired for sexual misconduct. As he quietly explains that Mitch had been below investigation by HR for a number of offenses, she explodes. “You knew about this and didn’t inform me?” she yells. “What am I, some fucking PA from Idaho who doesn’t must know what’s happening?”

“Oh fuck you, Chip,” she spits at him after he makes an attempt to clarify himself. “Fuck you. … This impacts me. My on-air companion, my TV husband, is a sexual predator now? What a part of you thought that I shouldn’t be concerned on this dialog?”

And but she nonetheless has to “deliver the information to America.” Sitting within the make-up chair, getting ready her opening monologue, she notices Mitch is looking. She very calmly silences the telephone, after which, with a burst of fury, bashes it into the drawer in entrance of her.

By the point Alex walks onto the morning present stage, all that anger has been briefly, essentially swallowed. She delivers the information of Mitch’s firing with power and beauty, an image of self-possession and concern. Like everybody else on that soundstage, she is aware of that something much less would result in infinite critique. One of many community heads remarks, “It’s too dangerous we will’t at all times throw a disaster at her. It turns her lights on.”

The Morning Present, costarring the equally fed-up Reese Witherspoon, is without delay a manifestation of and reckoning with ladies’s middle-aged rage. As showrunner Kerry Ehrin put it, “It’s nearly like this orchestral finale — this enormous noise and sound all these feelings which have simply been stuffed down in these ladies for all these years, you understand?”

It’s not that this rage is new. It’s at all times been there, in numerous, and variously sublimated, types. There have simply been so few alternatives for it to be listened to — a minimum of inside the mainstream — as a result of there have been so few mainstream productions that even take older ladies, not to mention their anger, critically. However The Morning Present, for all of its unevenness, additionally serves as a meta-textual commentary on the fatigue of a long time of being a girl within the public eye. It is a effective present about morning tv, and a not-always-successful present about #MeToo. But it surely’s additionally a really fascinating present about Jennifer Aniston.

Courtesy Apple TV

“For the document, I’m not pregnant,” Jennifer Aniston wrote in 2016. “What I’m is fed up.” As a result of she didn’t have social media, Aniston had determined, after years of nonstop gossip about her romantic life, to put in writing an editorial for HuffPost, lambasting the “sport-like scrutiny and physique shaming that happens day by day below the guise of ‘journalism,’ the ‘First Modification’ and ‘superstar information.’”

It’s a captivating, insightful piece — at one level she wonders, “If I’m some sort of image to some individuals on the market, then clearly I’m an instance of the lens by way of which we, as a society, view our moms, daughters, sisters, wives, associates, and colleagues.” But it surely’s additionally shot by way of with palpable rage, and never simply within the quotes she repeatedly locations across the phrase “journalists.” “The sheer quantity of assets being spent proper now by the press attempting to easily uncover whether or not or not I’m pregnant (for the bajillionth time…however who’s counting),” she writes, “factors to the perpetuation of this notion that ladies are in some way incomplete, unsuccessful, or sad in the event that they’re not married with youngsters.”

The Morning Present, for all of its unevenness, additionally serves as a meta-textual commentary on the fatigue of a long time of being a girl within the public eye. 

Aniston’s not improper: Like different massively common feminine stars, she capabilities as a lens by way of which others seen, judged, and in any other case discovered the ladies of their lives (together with themselves) wanting. Does your hair at all times look pretty much as good as Jen’s? Is your physique at all times as svelte? Do you look that easy, that unchangeable and unaging, at each film premiere? Gossip about Aniston’s breakup with Brad Pitt — and greater than a decade of hypothesis afterwards, regarding her relationship standing, her being pregnant standing, her heartbreak standing — was a simultaneous act of concern (“I simply need her to be pleased!”) and schadenfreude. Certain, she’s excellent, this gossip quietly whispers. However her life isn’t!

This phenomenon is much from new. It’s the predominant, contradictory approach society has processed well-known ladies for effectively over a century: venerate, but denigrate. Empower, then endlessly interrogate and query that energy. And it’s merely not the identical for males. Regardless of what number of waves of feminist thought go over us, we’re nonetheless out right here on child bump watch, cellulite watch, cosmetic surgery watch, desperately searching for out the shortage within the ladies who in any other case seemingly have all of it.

I’m positive Aniston was fed up with the infinite “Brad and Jen, again collectively and pregnant with twins!” journal covers lengthy earlier than 2016. However as she writes later within the piece, “I used to inform myself that tabloids had been like comedian books, to not be taken critically, only a cleaning soap opera for individuals to observe once they want a distraction.” Certainly, that’s how I used to show the concept of superstar gossip to my undergrad college students: It’s a melodrama, nearly solely alienated from the precise individuals it employs as characters, meant to make individuals really feel distracted and just like the world consists of fine individuals and dangerous, heroes and villains, Jens and Angelinas.

Brian Zak / Getty Photographs

Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt on the Premiere of Troy in 2004.

Normally that fed-up-ness comes later in life and a profession, when a girl has had sufficient time to see precisely how each Hollywood, and society at giant, sucks up fascinating ladies, briefly exalts them, then spits them out as soon as they develop into too demanding, too previous, too apparent of their makes an attempt to counter the consequences of age. Generally, after a string of flops and more and more dangerous roles, they disappear from sight. That’s what Renée Zellweger did, eradicating herself from Hollywood for seven years. Different occasions, their anger, filtered by way of the lens of a person, manifests onscreen as grotesque. (See particularly: each function of Joan Crawford’s after, oh, 1950.)

Different celebrities tamp down the craze, use its power to endlessly self-discipline the physique into its earlier type. The finest instance of this phenomena is Madonna, however there are numerous others whose effort is barely much less seen, and thus extra acceptable. Generally, that rage is transmuted into humor: most famously in “Final Fuckable Day,” the 2015 Inside Amy Schumer sketch by which Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Patricia Arquette, and Tina Fey rejoice the day “in each actress’s life when the media decides that you just’re not believably fuckable.” It’s additionally within the lyrics to nation supergroup the Highwomen’s “Redesigning Women,” which describes the never-ending labor of womanhood as “working exhausting to look good ’til we die.”

And some reemerge in righteous anger. I’ve at all times been struck by the truth that the ladies who first went on the document about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse and harassment — Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, Rose McGowan, and Rosanna Arquette — had reached the age, and place of their careers, the place they had been now not as fascinating inside the trade. McGowan had been attempting to speak about Weinstein for years. But it surely took the opposite, confirming voices, to power others to take her and their anger critically. I consider Uma Thurman, requested about Weinstein on the purple carpet for her Broadway play, and the simmering rage as she responds that she was ready to really feel much less indignant earlier than talking about it. (The piece by which she did discuss it was entitled “This Is Why Uma Thurman Is Angry.”)

And these are simply the popular culture manifestations. The 2016 election of Donald Trump — who, at that time, had been accused of a number of counts of sexual assault and misconduct — sparked a wage of shock and frustration that coalesced right into a wave of writing (“The Importance of Being an Angry Woman,” Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her, Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad, Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage) and the 2017 Girls’s March, which drew between 3 million and 5 million people. An unprecedented variety of ladies went on to not solely run for workplace in 2018, however volunteer en masse for campaigns — and an enormous quantity, if not the bulk, of these volunteers had been between the ages of 40 and 80.

One of many main motivators? Unmitigated anger. A 2018 Elle survey found that 74% of ladies consumed information a minimum of as soon as a day that made them indignant — and 78% of Democratic ladies reported feeling extra indignant than the 12 months earlier than. The Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court docket affirmation hearings solely exacerbated the sensation: “This anger is not going to subside,” Suzanne Moore wrote in the Guardian, “it is going to preserve flowing.”

Courtesy Apple TV

Varied popular culture artifacts have tried to channel that anger — and that curious sense of liberation — because the election. High of the Lake and Methods to Get Away with Homicide had been forward of the curve. Hustlers is ostensibly about class rage, but it surely’s additionally about ladies utilizing that anger in a type of class revenge particularly towards males. Atomic Blonde and Purple Sparrow are primarily ladies’s revenge fantasies. The Good Battle is resistance porn with ladies as its rightful heroines. Massive Little Lies. The beatification of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Jane Fonda protest appreciation. Useless to Me. The complete trajectory of Kesha’s profession. Ax-throwing facilities. Jessica Jones. Etsy cross-stitches emblazoned with f-bombs and “However, she persevered.” The resurgence of Riot Grrrl. The Handmaid’s Story. Dietland. Unbelievable. One million totally different true crime podcasts, seemingly all of them hosted by ladies.

A few of these narratives present catharsis (pushing a rapist down a set of stairs) whereas others, particularly these linked to actual life, are ongoing struggles with out closure. The Morning Present is undoubtedly a part of this development, to the purpose that its underlying premise was rejiggered after Matt Lauer was ousted from the Right this moment present following allegations of sexual assault. At one level within the first episode, a clip of Witherspoon’s character shrieking “I’m exhausted!” goes viral, establishing the premise for considered one of two primary storylines for the present. The different: how Aniston’s character, a Katie Couric–like morning present host, will take care of her fury over the truth that her cohost, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrell), was fired for serial sexual misconduct, whereas additionally warding off makes an attempt to change her with somebody youthful and perkier.

Gossip about Aniston was a simultaneous act of concern (“I simply need her to be pleased!”) and schadenfreude. Certain, she’s excellent, this gossip quietly whispers. However her life isn’t!

However a surfeit of anger doesn’t essentially make for a compelling narrative, and The Morning Present has been largely panned by critics, a lot of whom have honed in on the present’s lack of cohesive id. For the New York Occasions’ James Poniewozik, it felt “like one thing assembled in a cleanroom out of good-show components from incompatible suppliers.” The Ringer’s Alison Herman declared the present “has every little thing however seems like nothing.” However the thrill to me, and what is going to preserve me watching, is the best way the present, and the discourse round it, capabilities as a commentary on the constrictions of feminine stardom.

Later within the first episode of the present, Alex reveals up at her former cohost’s home, soaked by the rain. She has to sneak into his home to speak to him in order that the press wouldn’t see her and interpret it as giving sympathy. “I dwell a extremely unusual existence,” she says to him, without delay livid and exhausted. Not lengthy earlier than, she’d confronted a half a dozen individuals in her lounge, attempting to choreograph the specifics of her public-facing response. In a couple of hours, she’d need to be again in mattress, solely to repeat it once more with one other 3:30 a.m. alarm the subsequent day, and the day after that, and the day after that.

Lots of people get up early to go to jobs that take lots out of them. However this can be a particular commentary on the labor of superstar, which is usually ignored and erased or written off as “enjoyable” or “glamorous.” The activity of at all times being camera-ready, at all times ready to have your actions and trend selections and physique and strolling type scrutinized, at all times able to react with graciousness to anybody who approaches you — that may be exhausting for any superstar, but it surely’s notably exhausting for girls, for whom the appropriate vary of seems to be and behaviors is vanishingly small.

Courtesy Apple TV

David Letterman can develop a Santa Claus beard and it’s humorous. Justin Bieber can gown like Justin Bieber and it’s effective. However a feminine superstar leaving the home unkempt is an invite to indicate up within the pages of Us Weekly. Aniston is known for wearing variations on the identical theme: denims and black tops, black exercise gear, or, on the purple carpet, slim-fitting black attire. Her hair is nearly at all times down, at all times the identical honeyed gentle brown, and nearly at all times styled in the identical approach (grown-out variations of “The Rachel”).

Aniston’s by no means been pregnant, so far as we all know, and regardless of the variety of breathless “bump alerts,” her physique has by no means considerably modified in measurement. She’s stayed toned and lithe, her face recent and dewy, her type regular however irreproachable. And nonetheless she’s criticized. Her Morning Present character affords a method to show and embody that contradiction in a approach that’s troublesome to specific, in actual life, in a approach that doesn’t come off as ungrateful or bitchy. (Previously, the closest Aniston has gotten to an abrasive assertion got here in 2006, when she told Vanity Fair that Brad Pitt had “a sensitivity chip lacking.”)

However as Morning Present showrunner Kerry Ehrin explains, “Jennifer is a grown girl. She’s obtained quite a lot of depth, and he or she’s lived a life, and it was thrilling to have the ability to attain into these actual human depths,” together with the flexibility to “shrug off the burden of likability.” Director Mimi Leder informed the Hollywood Reporter that she purposefully let pictures linger on Aniston into the moments when her composure begins, ever so barely, to crumble. “That’s a part of the visible language of the present,” she mentioned. “I needed to carry pictures longer than regular — like Jen staring within the mirror throughout the first episode. Usually you’d minimize sooner, they usually requested me to, however I discovered her fascinating.”

Aniston is fascinating. However the huge variety of roles supplied to her — and that she’s taken, for no matter cause — work exhausting to counsel in any other case. The function of Rachel Inexperienced set her picture in concrete, however even the slightest detours from that picture (The Good Woman, Buddies with Cash, Cake, Dumplin’) have proven simply how fascinating of an actor she is. However these performances have been largely ignored, both as a result of they went straight to Netflix (Dumplin’) or as a result of they didn’t supply the Aniston picture, that have of charisma and likability, that so many have come to count on with considered one of her performances. What The Morning Present does is supply each: the star and her exhaustion; the charisma and its furious darkish facet; the glamour and the sacrifice.

When Aniston joined Instagram final month — a transfer, she admits, made particularly to advertise the present — she actually broke the platform. She now holds the document for the quickest particular person to amass 1 million followers: It took her simply 5 hours, 16 minutes. Right this moment, greater than 18.5 million individuals observe her account, which options posts which might be to date a mixture of #TBTs, pictures that present simply how a lot work goes into the glamorization course of. When she joined Instagram, a pal informed me: “I’m not even a lot of a fan, however after I noticed her, the gravitational pull was too robust.”

That’s the type of star Aniston is: uncommon and irresistible. Proper now, she’s straddling the age the place ladies have beforehand develop into unfuckable, uncastable, or invisible — a minimum of till they will reappear, a decade or two later, in Sizzling Helen Mirren mode. What’s going to this new shade of Aniston evolve into? She’s signed on for an additional season of The Morning Present. She’s set to play the president — with Tig Notaro as her spouse — in an upcoming movie for Netflix. In Good and Mad, Rebecca Traister writes that “ladies’s anger spurs creativity and drives innovation in politics and social change, and it at all times has.” Anger may be exploited for leisure, because it typically is by males. However within the fingers of ladies — Aniston, Witherspoon, and the ladies who function the present’s showrunner and director — it turns into one thing way more expansive and compelling.

The primary criticism with The Morning Present is that it will probably’t resolve what sort of present it’s. Its first, pre-#MeToo iteration, primarily based nearly solely on the politics of morning present internet hosting, or its second, woman-led, submit–Matt Lauer model, grappling with a lot bigger questions of culpability and solidarity. That’s how I’ve lengthy felt about Aniston. Is she the prickly, acerbic, neurotic weirdo, or the lady subsequent door within the sheath black gown and the tasteless rom-com? Seeing her bifurcation as Alex felt like a revelation: Right here’s who society, and superstar, forces me to be, and right here’s how the remainder of me absorbs and reacts to that mandate. Well-known ladies actually are similar to us: mad as hell, and more and more unwilling to cover it. ●

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