Friday 24 November 2017

Friends in low places

As Courteney Cox splits from her husband, Ed Power looks at the troubled cast of the iconic sitcom

Courteney Cox and David Arquette say they have been separated for some time (AP)
Courteney Cox and David Arquette say they have been separated for some time (AP)
Ed Power

Ed Power

The curse of Friends has struck again, with Courteney Cox announcing she is to split from husband of 11 years, David Arquette.

In what may well be the worst case of timing since Wayne Rooney last had a shot on goal, the pair had just reunited on screen for a new entry in the Scream franchise (they got together on the set of the original movie in 1996). Awkward!

As if that wasn't bad enough, Cox then had to endure the embarrassment of Arquette discussing their sex life in graphic detail on radio. He also said that he had a one-off fling with a cocktail waitress after they had separated.

Speaking to shock-jock Howard Stern, he revealed Cox had initiated the separation shortly after their 11th anniversary, telling him: "I don't want to be your mother any more."

It will be cold comfort but Cox can at least console herself with the knowledge she isn't the only Friends star with a messy personal life and unfulfilling career. Six years after the shutters came down on Central Perk, each of the cast is, to one extent or another, adrift.

A decade-long stint in the world's favourite sitcom left them enormously wealthy (by the final season, they were each paid $1m per episode) whilst doing them a few other favours.

Some of them appear to have accepted their fate. Matt LeBlanc hasn't acted since 2006, when his Friends spin-off, Joey, was cancelled.

David Schwimmer's attempt to step outside the shadow of gormless Ross by reinventing himself as a director, meanwhile, has come unstuck: his last movie, the slight Simon Pegg vehicle Run Fatboy Run, was a stinker. He subsequently declared his intention to return to theatre.

And he's doing well compared to Lisa Kudrow, generally agreed to be the most technically accomplished of the Friends crew. While the show was still running, she notched up a series of interesting roles in independent movies.

In the past six years, though, her career has been a story of ever decreasing circles -- her last major movie, The Paper Man, was a disaster, bringing in a paltry $13,000 at the box office.

Matthew Perry, meanwhile, gamely played against type in Aaron 'creator of The West Wing' Sorkin's Hollywood satire Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip.

However, that show was canned after a season and Perry has been looking for a niche ever since. He put in a cameo as an 'old' Zac Efron in the tweenager bait 17 Again and recently had a new project, a dark comedy called The End of Steve, passed on by US network Showtime.

Of all the cast, of course, Jennifer Aniston was the one expected to fare best in a post-Friends world. And yet she is the one who arguably has suffered worse from the aforementioned 'curse'.

Mere weeks since Angelina Jolie karate-kicked her way to the top of the US box office this summer with the spy romp Salt, her former love rival for Brad Pitt racked up another bomb.

An unlikely, and by all accounts shockingly unfunny, tale of sperm-donor mixed identity, The Switch is the latest in a seemingly endless deluge of Aniston rom-coms to fall short of expectations, with paltry first week takings of $8m in its opening seven days.

Shuffling in at number eight in the US top 10, The Switch's underwhelming showing was confirmation, were it needed, that the 41-year-old can't reel in an audience on her own.

Actually, the opposite may be the case: slapping her name on the poster might apply a kiss of death to a movie. Remember that The Bounty Hunter, in which she starred opposite Gerard Butler, delivered a serious blow to the Scottish actor's standing in Hollywood.

"Jennifer Aniston is undoubtedly a good actress and some of her indie roles have proved that," says Jennifer Stevens, editor of U Magazine. "But I think there is a sense of disappointment about Jennifer because people loved her so much in Friends and expected so much more from her afterwards. She's like the superstar who didn't quite make it."

This wasn't how it was supposed to be. She was quite obviously the most charismatic of the Friends ensemble. More than that, her fairytale marriage to Brad Pitt seemed to guarantee her a permanent place in the headlines.

Plus, she had demonstrated a willingness to step outside her Friends persona, with touching performances in smaller projects such as Office Space, The Iron Giant and The Good Girl.

What happened? Well, her personal life went from being an asset to a distinct disadvantage. When Pitt hooked up with Jolie on the set of Mr and Mrs Smith, Aniston was cast in the unwelcome new role of jilted wife.

Outpourings of sympathy rapidly gave way to 'Jen fatigue' -- how many times were we supposed to look at paparazzi shots of Aniston before indifference, then hostility, set in?

Meanwhile, she was displaying an uncanny talent for starring in stinkers. She had already starred in her share of flops while Friends was on air (Picture Perfect, The Object of My Affection).

Now she seemed to be starring in a duff rom-com every other week. Along Came Polly, The Break Up, He's Just Not That Into You -- each came and went , leaving Aniston's status as an A-lister that little bit more battered at the edges.

"I think that most people are sick of all of that and have moved on," says Jennifer Stevens.

Then again, perhaps it is unfair to hold Aniston wholly to blame. As a genre, the rom-com is clearly in trouble, with audiences tiring of gloopy plot-lines and unrealistic portrayals of modern relationships. Maybe Aniston is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"Jennifer Aniston is staying with the traditional route of 'boy meets girl and lives happily ever after', which still has an audience but an incredibly shrinking audience," says editor Vincent Donnelly.

"More rom-coms are now -- shock horror! -- targeting men, by casting anti-heroes instead of the typical chisel-jawed hunk; someone that the everyday man can relate to. This has mixed up the whole boy-meets-girl formula; the couples in a modern day rom-com don't need to have a happy ending.

"The perfect example of this is (500) Days Of Summer, which had all the ingredients of a traditional rom-com but had much wider appeal.

"I even saw groups of guys attending that one on their own, something you won't see at Jennifer Aniston's new movie."

Irish Independent

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