“We can’t just see women succeeding all the time,” Dr. Gray said. “A good feminist image needs to show us women struggling and sometimes making bad decisions. Jennifer Aniston often occupies that role. People connect. It’s ‘Yeah, she doesn’t know what she’s doing and neither do I.’”
To admirers Ms. Aniston’s seeming bewilderment is built on a bedrock of granite.
“Many celebrities, when they’re under pressure, break down and start making bad decisions,” said Nancy Eastman, 15, a high school sophomore in New York City. “Suddenly you hear they’re in rehab. With Jennifer Aniston that never happened. She just tried going on with her life and doing what she loved. To me she is Rachel.”
That she would conflate the actress with her character seems a given. “Fans always try to ferret out the connection between the characters actresses play and their real lives,” said Leo Braudy, a professor of literature, film history and American culture at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. As for Ms. Aniston, “If she is a role model, it is the role of survivor.”
To some, Ms. Aniston seems to have sedulously cultivated that cool-girl persona — tough but not hardened, cheery or tart as it suits her. Her performance, if it is one, puts one in mind of Amy Dunne, the unnervingly cunning title character of “Gone Girl,” Gillian Flynn’s 2012 thriller, who has styled herself, as Amy observes in what maybe the novel’s most oft-quoted passage, “as that hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes and burping.” And, as Amy observes, never gets angry.
But if Ms. Aniston is mostly sticking to script, does it matter?
The actress herself has been quick to exploit her red-carpet appeal in a black leather minidress or sensationally clingy bias-cut gown. She seems to generate heat, yet younger male fans rarely respond with unbridled lust.