Jennifer Aniston has made a metric fuckton of movies. Some of them are bad; some are watchable when they come on cable during the holidays and you’d rather sit through Along Came Polly for the 300th time than enjoy the company of your extended family. And while Aniston is best known for her television work, it’s likely all those movies that keep the money rolling in for Aniston (besides those Friends residuals). So it’s somewhat “shocking” to hear that a recent project made her want to quit acting entirely. The question is: Which movie was it?
On the podcast SmartLess, hosted by Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett, Aniston revealed that she almost hid her People’s Choice Awards in a closet, never to be seen again, after a project that filmed some time in the last few years “sucked the life out of me.” She told the hosts that as she pondered her acting career, she thought, “I don’t know if this is what interests me.” So what does interest her? Interior design, apparently.
But that’s beside the point—I’m here to find out which movie sucked the life out of Jennifer Aniston. After the hosts asked when the question of dropping out of Hollywood first popped into her brain, she told them, “I would have to say the last two years that has crossed my mind.” She then elaborated, revealing that it was sometime before The Morning Show, which premiered in 2019 but began principle filming in 2018. She also says, later in the episode, that she “always love[s] shooting with [Adam] Sandler,” who starred in Murder Mystery with Aniston in 2019. Coincidentally, that also filmed in 2018, which means I can comfortably rule out both Murder Mystery and The Morning Show from the prospective list of projects, and also extend the frame of reference back to at least 2016.
During that timeline, here’s the list of movies Aniston starred in:
- Dumplin’ (2018)
- The Yellow Birds (2017)
- Office Christmas Party (2016)
- Storks (2016)
- Mother’s Day (2016)
Here’s how this investigation will work: I will go movie by movie to compare Aniston’s general vibe during each of them. (Yes, this will entirely rely on a vibe check, the most comprehensive scientific tool at my disposal.) I’ll also use my detective-like instincts to suss out the critical reception to each flick, and compare said critical reception to my own common sense, as the world’s best movie critic. In the process, I think the answer to this investigation will make itself abundantly clear.
Let’s dive in!
Mother’s Day is a movie that works in theory, but falls apart in execution. Its cast is truly “all-star,” at least in the direct-to-video holiday movie industry: frequent Aniston collaborator Jason Sudeikis, Julia Roberts, character actress Margo Martindale, and leisurewear mogul Kate Hudson. But even the reunion of Julia Roberts and Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall wasn’t enough to save this flick from a convoluted plot that borrowed a bit too heavily from other gimmicky holiday films like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. It even boasts a whopping 8 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics at the time like robertebert.com’s Peter Sobczynski writing:
Do you like films that are so wildly overstuffed with characters and subplots that the finale requires a child’s life-threatening asthma attack, a karaoke-related injury and a recalcitrant vending machine to bring two characters together at last? Are you okay with movies that feature characters who are unabashedly racist, so long as they are wacky racists? Have you lain awake late at night wondering what Julia Roberts might look like if she happened to be sporting Moe Howard’s hairdo? If so, then “Mother’s Day” may just be the movie for you.
It’s true, Julia Roberts’s wig was horrific. Yet, even if the film was universally panned by critics and audiences, I can’t shake the feeling that this sort of project is Aniston’s happy place. She clearly enjoys the Jason Sudeikis Romantic Comedy Extended Universe, or she wouldn’t keep working inside it. She also claimed, in interviews, that she signed up for the film immediately because of Gary Marshall.
As much as I want to feel vindicated that Mother’s Day almost obliterated the career of Hollywood’s most famous face, I think my search will continue.
Remember Storks? I don’t. And if I were to bet my entire life’s savings—which admittedly is not a lot—I’d argue that Jennifer Aniston doesn’t either. She plays minor character Sarah Gardner, a workaholic mom who appears in so little of the film, I had to check the official Storks fandom wiki to make sure I had the character correct. I’m almost positive this is not the film I’m looking for.
Office Christmas Party is another film that exists in the Jason Sudeikis Extended Universe, by way of Jason Bateman, another frequent Aniston collaborator. And unlike the other romantically inclined films on this list, Office Christmas Party is pure physical comedy, something I would argue is a winning aspect of Aniston’s acting repertoire.
But it is also a film I have seen exactly 40 minutes of, on a flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles. As such, I will defer to Jezebel’s EIC Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, who claims that “OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY RULED,” and that she has seen it “like eight times.” And while Escobedo Shepherd claims she is “pretty sure it was critically panned,” it did set the record for the highest ever opening for a Christmas-themed movie (that came out in the month of December, at least.) It also grossed $114 million worldwide, double its $45 million budget.
Anyway, when I combine the fact that she made Office Christmas Party with a man she clearly loves to be in movies with—at least judging by the film’s press junket—and its high box office, I can’t convince myself that this flick almost did her in. A case could be made that its intense physical demands and high number of stunts tired Aniston out. It’s also entirely possible that she utterly despised working alongside TJ Miller, who is a heinous freak, in my opinion. The movie also precipitated numerous stories about Miller, including, but not limited to: accusations of sexual assault, physically assaulting an Uber driver, falsifying a bomb threat, and being a general dickhead and bully on the set of Silicon Valley.
Apparently Jennifer Aniston starred in a psychological war thriller with Toni Collette, which is news to me and also to you.
The Yellow Birds is an obvious departure for Aniston, who generally keeps it light. Critics at the time appeared universally lukewarm about it, with most saying its deeper message—that the traumas of war come home with soldiers—was lost in a cliché plot. And having watched the trailer back a few times now, alongside the scenes I’ve been able to find online, I’m reminded of the quote that launched this entire investigation. Aniston explicitly said that the project in question “sucked the life out of me.” I don’t think a better fit for this sort of statement could exist than The Yellow Birds, which runs counter to everything Aniston supposedly loves about making movies. Even her more serious work, like The Morning Show, is laced with comedic opportunities.
Could it be The Yellow Birds? Probably. I think it’s the best fit I’ve found, but there’s still one movie to go! Let’s hold onto this, though, because I think I’ve cracked the case.
Let’s make this quick: Jennifer Aniston not only starred in Dumplin’ as a main character, she executive-produced it as well. In the press leading up to the film’s release, Aniston called it a “beautiful” movie, with an “important message.” It also played to Aniston’s strong suits: physical comedy, with a heartwarming twinge about family or love or acceptance or some other Hallmark-approved greeting card message. (To its credit, the film was wildly more enjoyable than I expected. Go watch it!)
There is simply no conceivable universe where Dumplin’ “sucked the life” out of Jennifer Aniston.
Based on my logical deductions and scientific calculations, The Yellow Birds is the most likely candidate for the worst filmmaking experience Jennifer Aniston ever had. If it isn’t, then Jason Bateman better watch his back, because Office Christmas Party is a strong runner-up. (T.J. Miller should also watch his back, for entirely different reasons.)
Instead of some long, meandering diatribe about the many ups and downs of Aniston’s career—and there have been plenty!—I’ll leave you all with an image of Julia Robert’s Mother’s Day wig, which says everything I am currently thinking, and then some.