'Horrible Bosses' Is a Horrible Choice for Jennifer Aniston

Renée Scolaro Mora
Jennifer Aniston as Dr. Julia Harris in Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses treats women, and especially Jennifer Aniston's character, in familiar ways -- either ignored or openly maligned.

Horrible Bosses

Director: Seth Gordon
Cast: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey
Rated: R
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-07-08 (General release)
UK date: 2011-07-22 (General release)

The ads for Horrible Bosses don't mince words. They mean to make clear the flaws of each boss: David Harken (Kevin Spacey) is a psycho, Bobby Pellit (Colin Farrell in Les Grossman mode) is a tool, and Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston) is a man-eater. As we come to find in the film, each is also the employer of one of three best friends. Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) meet every night to lament their hostile work environments. Finally reaching their breaking points, the friends decide that, the economy being what it is, their only options are prostitution or murder.

Murder, it is.

Of course, Nick, Kurt, and Dale are "good guys", driven to their brinks by utterly awful bosses. Nick has slaved for Harken for years, trying to earn a promotion, only to have Harken take the job himself. Kurt, the only one who has loved his job up to this point, is forced to participate in Pellit's discrimination and undeniable sleaziness in order to stay employed. And then there's Dale, sexually harassed and blackmailed by the beautiful but crass Dr. Julia. Naturally, Dale's plight is mostly mocked by the other two, who repeatedly tell him, "Yours doesn't sound that bad, actually."

Yes, they're trying to figure out how to be "men". And no, they have no idea how to kill anyone. So they seek out a hired gun, that is, the nearest black man in the roughest neighborhood. Engaging the services of Dean "MF" Jones (Jamie Foxx), they are finally convinced to kill off each others' bosses à la Strangers on a Train. Predictably, as they take his advice, they discover their own inner horribleness.

Their ineptitude as killers is indeed comical and revealed in some genuinely surprising ways. Director Seth Gordon avoids belaboring each outcome to redundancy, instead leaving audiences to fill in the obvious blanks. He's helped in this by his three primary actors, who deliver credible performances no matter how ludicrous the circumstances. Bateman, especially, does what he does best, playing the only seemingly sane one of the bunch, as well as the most entertainingly sarcastic.

On the other hand -- and as we've all heard repeatedly -- Jennifer Aniston's role is not only broadly stylized but also a huge departure for her. That's not necessarily a good thing. Essentially, she has a small, flashy part in a standard buddy film. As such, it treats women, and especially Aniston's character, in familiar ways -- either ignored or openly maligned. Sure, Dr. Julia is one of the villains, but her male counterparts are given some excuse for their awful behavior, however feeble: Pellit's is drug-fueled and Harken's, in large part, is spurred on by his faithless wife (Julie Bowen).

Julia, however, just is. Horrible Bosses offers no context or motivation for her sexual aggression, which extends beyond harassing Dale to victimizing patients and betraying other women. While it's implied that she's been harassing him for some time, Julia goes into overdrive when she learns Dale is now engaged to sweet, but vapid, Stacy (Lindsay Sloane). It's doubtful Julia's urgency to conquer Dale is fueled by her "respect" for marriage (despite her claims to the contrary). This leaves us with the following: she's not only a "man-eater", but determined to crush other women, as well. Julia's a threat to everyone.

The movie's set of equations (essentially, who deserves what and who mirrors whom) turns complicated when we consider that Julia is very much like the man assigned to kill her, Kurt. In a bar however, he's quick to excuse himself to go chase after a beautiful girl, saying, "Excuse me, I need to go see a woman about her vagina." While there may not be much of a difference between this comment and Julia's "Shabbat, shalom, somebody's circumcised," she is the one both mocked and marked for murder, while Kurt is mildly scolded by his slightly better-mannered friends. All three guys worry whether the others will be able to go through with the deal they've made. Unlike his buddies, Kurt has an appallingly misogynistic back-up plan: "I'll fuck the crazy out of her," he proclaims, because a bad woman can be set straight by a strong man turning her aberrant behavior back on her.

Julia's need for redemption -- however perverse -- is only made more pronounced by the fact that she's played by Aniston. Her raunchy turn here is generating plenty of press for the film. And Aniston has played her part in this as well, pointing out how "different" the role is, for her and for "women". "It’s usually the male character in that role," she says. "That’s why I thought of her like a guy." While Aniston may be playing against her own type, that only underscores the other half of this problem: in popular imagery, still, women are too often one thing or another, man-eaters or good girls, whores or virgins. Would anyone care if, say, Kathy Griffin was playing Julia? And doesn't all this attention sound a lot like the stories surrounding nice girl Demi Moore's man-eating in 1994's Disclosure?

We might say it's a plus that Aniston's performance here appears less strained than her previous efforts to leave Rachel behind (see: Derailed). It also confirms that comedy is her strong suit. Neither of these points is compelling news, though. Whether either of them justifies her complicity in a project so overdetermined to punish and degrade its women is another question altogether.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.