I wouldn’t normally consider myself the type to be soothed by inane, feel-good celebrity stunts — there have been plenty of dumb ones throughout the pandemic — and yet I’m still reveling over the latest, from last week, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me.
Sean Penn, who played the iconic Jeff Spicoli, was able to gather an impressive group of A-list stars for a virtual table read of the ’80s classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High to raise funds for the nonprofit he cofounded, CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort), which is currently responding to the coronavirus crisis. Penn was the only member of the original cast in attendance; everyone else was a new player. Attendees included Morgan Freeman, Julia Roberts, and a delightfully stoned Shia LeBeouf as Spicoli shooting from his car, but it’s safe to say that most of the tens of thousands of people who tuned in were mostly interested in seeing ex-spouses Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston reunite for their first onscreen pairing in decades. If the now-infamous arm grab at the 2020 Oscars made everybody lose their minds (Was that really this year? Kill me), this extended interaction was gonna put everyone positively over the edge.
And it did; my timeline has been flooded with screenshots all weekend. The looks alone! Aniston wears some oversized aviators and her character’s iconic red bikini (though hers is worn, tastefully if kinda weirdly, over a T-shirt). It’s Pitt, though, whose outfit I might…never stop thinking about?? He’s in a seafoam green crew neck tee with a white undershirt peeking out underneath; the ridiculously perfect surfer-dude color matches his raggedly bleached hair and pink cheeks. When you add in a couple beaded necklaces and hemp bracelets, plus some rimless frames, his energy — that of the seemingly “unhinged dad who never sees his kids” or “the mom whose car you wanted to be in on the field trip” — is almost too powerful. He is simply…too hot.
I’ve spent most of my life wondering if Pitt's finally reached his hottest form (Was it via the homoeroticism in 2004’s Troy? When he was newly sober, cleanly shaven, and looking ethereally gorgeous in a 2017 GQ photoshoot in a bunch of national parks? Was it his interminable shirtless scene in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? Or was it earlier this year, when he was looking at art, eating In-N-Out, and — we can only hope — having stoned hookups with queer indie star Alia Shawkat?) Turns out I’m not the only one who had to update my rankings this week.
Though much was made of Pitt and Aniston's “flirty reunion” during the table read — their characters have some steamy interactions (“I think you’re so sexy,” Aniston says at one point, while Pitt's face gets redder, “Will you come to me?”) — I have to admit I didn’t watch most of it; I doubt most people did, either. After all, their most compelling interaction took place before the reading even started. “Hi, Aniston!” Pitt says, jovially, leaning forward into his webcam, as if he’s genuinely glad to see her. “Hi, Pitt,” Aniston says, just as cheerfully. “How you doin’?” from Pitt. “Good, honey,” she says. “How are you doing?” “I’m all right,” he says, leaning back.
I must have rewatched this five-second interaction…somewhere between 20 to 50 times. I wouldn’t consider myself a Brad/Jen shipper — I thought their Oscars moment was comically overblown, and I think that Aniston deserves a life in which she’s not forever linked in headlines and the popular imagination with this one very famous man — but I found the moment so charming and sweet. They’re actors, who knows! Maybe they were just being good-humored because keeping the peace is the path of least resistance. But the use of their last names (honestly…hot) and the “honey” and the “how you doin’” struck me as seemingly natural and genuine — moments we rarely ever get from tippy-top A-listers. Clearly they still have great chemistry, which is all the more fun and flirty and bittersweet given that I’m never expecting the pair will actually reunite.
Nor do I hope they do. I was rooting for Pitt and Shawkat, for my part, but now it looks like Pitt isn’t, in fact, dating a queer half-Arab thirtysomething who makes interesting independent films — he’s supposedly dating a 27-year-old German model (who is, herself, in an open marriage with an even older guy). If this twice-divorced multimillionaire has to date way younger, all while going through a nasty custody battle, I was hoping he’d have the decency to shake things up just a little! But no — Pitt, hot as he is, doesn’t actually strike me as good partner material for a woman who’s still smoking hot in her fifties and going through a Jennaissance. His loss! (No offense to the German model; I’m sure she’s, you know, fine.)
Luckily for me, I don’t really need to care at all about Pitt the person when his image — and his devastating ability to smolder — provides me all the fluttery feelings and meme fodder I could ever possibly need.
I wouldn’t go as far as Lili Reinhart, the Riverdale star who tweeted her “unpopular opinion” that she thinks we should all “leave Jennifer and Brad alone” and “let them live their lives in peace.” (Turns out it wasn’t all that unpopular; it’s been liked nearly 60,000 times.) I do agree that anyone who’s expecting to get back together is kidding themselves, but I don’t think there’s any harm in playful theories and fanfic; a source told US Weekly that Pitt and Aniston don’t care, either, and actually find all the hubbub “hysterical.” They had fun flirting, and we had fun watching. When so much about our present and our future feels completely, vastly unknowable, we could all use a little bit of nostalgic celeb gossip. Or if it’s not your thing, just scroll right by. Who cares? ●
Alia Shawkat is 31 and half-Arab. Her age and ethnicity were misstated in a previous version of this post.