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Disney Dumped The Switch, But Aniston Needs Strong Co-Stars

Thompson on Hollywood By Anthony D'Alessandro | Thompson on Hollywood August 26, 2010 at 5:57AM

What went wrong with The Switch, and is Jennifer Aniston's anemic marquee value to blame? Anthony D'Alessandro comes up with some surprising answers.
Thompson on Hollywood

What went wrong with The Switch, and is Jennifer Aniston's anemic marquee value to blame? Anthony D'Alessandro comes up with some surprising answers.

Jennifer Aniston’s box office allure is in question after Miramax failed to electrify moviegoers with her recent rom-com The Switch. Despite being the only star-driven wide entry in a crowded, blasé August frame, Switch bombed in seventh place with $8.4 million.  The comedy about artificial insemination, which also stars Jason Bateman, queued behind a 3D genre title, an urban comedy and a string of holdovers. 

Unlike last summer, when The Proposal ($164 million) and The Ugly Truth ($88.9 million) fed the hungry female demo, aud-pleasing romcoms have been sparse this season, with the dismal public reception of Sex and the City 2 overshadowing its $95.3 million domestic cume. The press jumped all over Aniston’s inability to allure auds as an American sweetheart.

Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
But many b.o. pundits neglected to point out that Switch is the bastard child of Disney’s Miramax selloff. The actress’ phone will continue to ring with movie offers. The key here is that behind every great romantic comedy, is a great leading man. Aniston can’t open a film on her own: few actresses can: Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts are the only ones. And they still need to be cast in fan-friendly roles like Salt, The Proposal and Eat Pray Love, respectively. It's challenging for actresses to step out of their fans' sweet spot. After Reese Witherspoon scored with 2002’s Sweet Home Alabama ($127.2 million), she soon realized that solo projects are a gamble. Her next film, Just Like Heaven, built largely around her, tanked at $48.3 million. 

Aniston’s biggest hits at the box office -- Bruce Almighty ($242.8 million), Marley and Me ($143.2 million) and The Break-Up ($118.7 million) –in part can be attributed to her strong leading men: Jim Carrey, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.  The same applies to other successful romantic comedies, i.e. Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler in 50 First Dates and even Witherspoon with Vaughn in Four Christmases, with which she rebounded from Heaven.

Jason Bateman’s affability as a straight man aside, the actor lacks the B.O. prowess to hold up Aniston’s end in Switch.  While he has built a strong co-star resume in prestige fare like Juno and Up in the Air, Bateman has yet to excel financially in a star vehicle.  His comedy last summer, Extract, also from Miramax, put audiences asleep with $10.8 million. Actually, Switch is more Bateman’s film than Aniston’s, as the mixed reviews pointed out. Disney-Miramax might have been better off convincing testosterones that they shouldn’t shrug off seeing the film with their 25+ girlfriends. Fully 65% of those buying tickets to Switch were female.

Should Aniston wish to continue flickering onscreen as part of the Bullock-Roberts club, rather than fade into Meg Ryan-Michelle Pfeiffer obscurity, the actress needs to up her game, suggests Vulture’s Claude Brodesser-Akner. Still coveted for playing a variation of her lovable Friends protagonist Rachel, Anniston should play that character “at the highest level: Alexander Payne, Jim Brooks.”

But, no matter which way you cut it, Switch was destined to fail. Had Disney flagged it as a guaranteed draw, the studio would have scheduled it earlier in the summer, rather than competing against four new titles. Disney could have dodged that situation just as Warner Bros. did by moving Going the Distance to Sept. 3.  Like white Capri pants after Labor Day, if there’s one frame that doesn’t go with Aniston, it’s the August/September period, when she’s bit the dust with a number of stinkers: 1997’s Picture Perfect ($31.4 million), 2001’s Rock Star ($17 million) and last year’s Love Happens ($23 million). 

Obviously, Disney dumped Switch, which they did not develop and finance. Their shuttered Miramax specialty label acquired the film from financier Mandate for $6 million and nearly unloaded it off to Ron Tutor’s Miramax before accepting their distribution fee.  One analyst close to Disney says: “It’s not clear who will ultimately claim the box office money from Switch in their marketshare – Disney or the new Miramax.”  History has shown that co-distributors often squabble in such stat-keeping: MGM laid claim to the B.O. from the Weinstein product they handled, while the Weinstein Co. argued such grosses were rightfully theirs to report in domestic tallies.

Aniston made up for any marketing shortchange by tirelessly championing the film: from her Streisand-inspired Harper's Bazaar cover to her public feud with Fox News' Bill O’Reilly over single motherhood.  Even scarier than the media scrutiny of Aniston’s B.O. muscle is the fact that no amount of the star’s free publicity could push this film to open higher. Like Jolie, Aniston typically throws open the drapes of her private life when tub-thumping her movies. There’s an obvious disconnect between ticket buyers and glossy mag readers.

Switch's one silver lining: financier Mandate recouped its $19 million investment through territory sales before the romcom even bowed. Worldwide, The Switch currently stands at $11.5 million with 90% of its haul coming from the U.S. 

Aniston's next move? On paper, she’s looking to hedge her bets with the Warner Bros./New Line ensemble comedy Horrible Bossess, in which she plays a sexually- charged dentist, and Sony’s Adam Sandler smoocher comedy Just Go With It, both due next year.

This article is related to: Box Office, Genres, Studios, Career Watch, Summer, comedy, Disney

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.