Next Wednesday marks the release of Rawson Marshall Thurber’s raunchy comedy, We’re The Millers, a Jason Sudeikis- and Jennifer Aniston-starring affair that aims to make international drug smuggling fun for the whole family (even if that family is a fake one, like the one in the film). It’s also another film that aims to convince America that both Sudeikis and Aniston are bonafide movie stars, a claim that we’re still not entirely sure is true (even if we do think that Sudeikis is well on his way). The problem lies with Aniston, an actress that has never been better, funnier, or more interesting than she was on the television show that made her (we’re talking about Friends here, you’ve probably heard of it).
Aniston has starred in plenty of films over the course of her career – including Leprechaun, She’s the One, The Object of My Affection, Office Space, Rock Star, The Good Girl, Along Came Polly, Bruce Almighty, Derailed, Rumor Has It…, Friends With Money, Management, Marley & Me, Love Happens, The Break-Up, He’s Just Not That Into You, The Bounty Hunter, The Switch, Horrible Bosses, Just Go With It, and Wanderlust – and her work has spanned a hearty number of genres. Aniston has done it all (seriously, just go back and look at that list), but she’s never really broken through as a bankable big screen star who can carry a film simply due to her own merits and name recognition. Look at it this way – Aniston has starred in five films that have crossed the $100m mark at the domestic box office, but every single one of those films featured her working alongside big name male comedic talent, including Jim Carrey, Vince Vaughn, Adam Sandler, and Owen Wilson. Aniston is funny, and she certainly knows how to work in an ensemble and how to support other comedic talents around her, but she’s yet to be the main attraction for even her biggest films.
And that’s a shame, because buried deep in Aniston’s resume is the kind of film that she should have made many more of, the kind of film that the current box office landscape is strangely devoid of, the kind of film that saw Aniston starring alongside yet another big name male comedic talent (an SNL alum, no less!) and emerging as the clear star. We’re talking, of course, about Picture Perfect.
Yes, we’re talking about Picture Perfect! And, no, this isn’t as random as it sounds, because today is the film’s sixteenth birthday and if that’s not an excuse to write about one of Aniston’s most charming, sweet, and amusing roles ever, we don’t know what is.
Like any good romantic comedy, Picture Perfect has a basic plotline that is both totally insane and totally simple. Aniston stars as Kate Mosley, a young advertising executive who is astonished and upset to discover that she’s being passed over at work because her lack of personal connections (read: she’s not married and she doesn’t have any kids) make her boss uneasy. Her boss, Mr. Mercer (Kevin Dunn), is a nice enough guy, but he’s concerned that Kate’s lifestyle makes it way too easy for her to jump ship and move to a new firm, a new job, a new career. Why waste a promotion on that? Well, maybe because she deserves it and maybe because the indication that a single twentysomething woman is fundamentally unreliable is both sexist and ageist, but whatever. Onward!
Despite initial misgivings (Kate is, after all, still a professional), her scrappy coworker Darcy (played by the divine Illeana Douglas) hatches a predictably wacky lie that Kate actually does have a boyfriend, he just so happens to live in Boston. Darcy even has a picture of the pair to prove it! (The picture, of course, is from a recent wedding that Kate and Jay Mohr’s Nick both happened to attend, having no previous knowledge of each other.) (Also, get it? Picture Perfect? Picture? Perfect!) (Also, Nick is a wedding photographer, so that’s cute, too.) See! Kate is stable, Mr. Mercer! She’s settling down, so why not move her on up?
Obviously, this works.
Until, of course, it doesn’t, because Nick (who is, you know, a real person out there in the world) just has to be a hero, ending up on the news after he saves a little girl from a fire. (Who cares why local Boston news is getting big play in Manhattan.) Now that Kate’s Nick is a more known quantity, she’s stuck, she has to bring him to New York City to meet everyone in her life that has bought into this insane lie about their life together (including, weirdly enough, her smarmy co-worker Sam, played by Kevin Bacon, who has finally started showing an interest in Kate because he now sees her as a “bad girl” willing to cheat on Nick, and that’s somehow attractive to him). Everything gets flubbed up in a big way, mainly because Nick (who is being paid by Kate for this wacky endeavor) has developed feelings for Kate and is desperate to keep them fake together in hopes that they will become actually together. It would be sad if it wasn’t just so sweet. (And if Aniston and Mohr didn’t have such wonderful chemistry.)
You probably know the rest – a lot of mishaps and arguments and bad things happen, and Kate has to finally come clean and reevaluate her life (even though she gets to keep her new job), and she realizes Nick is the guy for her, so of course she tries to tell him this while he’s working a wedding. Nick rejects her for about three minutes, before finally acquiescing, forgiving Kate and inviting her to the wedding reception as his guest (is this something that wedding workers can do?). Roll credits.
And while that all sounds nutty and weird and just sort of manipulative, Picture Perfect is one hell of an underrated rom-com (which are, by and large, nutty and weird and just sort of manipulative anyway) and Aniston turns in one hell of a charming performance.
Filmed in the middle of her Friends tenure, there are a lot of similarities between Kate Mosley and Rachel Green. They are both career-driven Manhattan residents who are still struggling to truly define themselves, both in terms of profession and their personal lives. No, Kate Mosley wasn’t a big jump for Aniston, but that worked in her favor – she already “knew” Kate, and that level of comfort and insight is what allowed her Picture Perfect performance to be so charming. She didn’t have to flesh out a wholly new entity (which she did five years later for The Good Girl, the gold standard “hey, this woman can really act!” performance of Aniston’s career), she just had to turn the dial a little to the left.
Yes, it sounds strange to praise an actor for not having to do too much work in service to a character, but that’s exactly what happened with Picture Perfect, and the results only served to show what Aniston’s rom-com wheelhouse should be. You keep your Wanderlusts and Just Go With Its, we want more Picture Perfects.
Hey, happy birthday, Picture Perfect. You’re still looking sharp to us.