Is Jennifer Aniston Next Year’s Matthew McConaughey?

Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Jennifer Aniston will probably always be most deeply etched into public consciousness for her role on the sitcom Friends and the scandalous breakup between her and ex-husband Brad Pitt, which may or may not have been directly caused by Angelina Jolie, but a new movie that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival has some critics saying that Aniston could be an Oscar contender this year and may even be undergoing a career turnaround.

Most of Aniston’s post-Friends work has consisted of silly comedies like We’re the Millers and Horrible Bosses. While the actress has proven she’s funny, those roles weren’t exactly indicators of great range after her longtime work on Friends.

That all might change with Cake, an indie film in which Aniston plays a woman suffering from chronic pain and addicted to prescription drugs. Deadline described the rapturous reception the film got after premiering at Toronto, receiving a standing ovation from the audience that made Aniston cry backstage. That publication said that Cake could be Aniston’s Monster or Dallas Buyer’s Club if it picks up enough steam.

Reviews are making much of the fact that, like Charlize Theron did for Monster, Aniston uglied herself up for the role by not wearing any makeup and having a huge scar across her face from the accident that caused the character’s pain issues. “You have to go with the script. When I read it I knew it was the role of a lifetime. How could I turn that down,” Aniston told Deadline at the Toronto Film Festival.

Aniston’s character Claire is in so much pain she can barely sit up and Aniston prepared for the film by watching documentaries and interviewing people who suffer from chronic pain disorders. Claire lives in a house in Los Angeles, alone except for her housekeeper (her best friend) and her gardener (who she sometimes sleeps with). Her husband left her years ago and she attends a support group for people who suffer from chronic pain.

One member of the support group, played by Anna Kendrick, commits suicide at the beginning of the film and proceeds to haunt Claire in her dreams despite her vicious response to the selfish act at her therapy session. Claire is caustic and mean and drives the people close to her away, though she ends up seeking out a relationship with the widowed husband of her deceased acquaintance.

Aniston hasn’t done an indie since 2006’s Friends With Money, which received decent reviews but wasn’t exactly a career-making film. Early critical reception makes Cake seem like it could be. Charlize Theron won the Oscar for her role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, a part for which the beautiful actress gained weight and was so ugly she was unrecognizable. Aniston’s transformation here is less extreme, but it’s always commended as ‘brave’ when an older actress shuns the team of people employed to make her look beautiful.

The Dallas Buyer’s Club comparison comes as Matthew McConaughey used that film to turn his career around from leading hunk in romantic comedies to the most desirable serious actor in the business, taking home the Oscar for the role last year. If Cake could do something similar for Aniston she might finally gain a reputation as a serious actress and help her transition her career towards roles less focused on her sex appeal as she gets older.

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