'Friends With Money' to Cause Stir at Sundance

Expect a media feeding frenzy when the 25th Sundance Film Festival opens Thursday night with the premiere of "Friends With Money," starring tabloid bait Jennifer Aniston.

It'll be a repeat performance of 2002's Park City, Utah, premiere of Aniston's "The Good Girl," which created such a media circus that the movie started 45 minutes late, a Sundance record.

"I'm pretty nervous," says "Friends With Money" director Nicole Holofcener, who found her $6 million comedy besieged by the tabloid press when it started shooting last Jan. 8 in Los Angeles.

That was just one day after Aniston's publicist confirmed the actress' split from then-husband Brad Pitt -- making Aniston one of the world's top targets for paparazzi.

"We were totally unprepared, and we didn't have the money like a Tom Cruise movie for security," the director says with a laugh.

"There was actually a little fear Jennifer wouldn't go through with it because of the media madness, but she showed up with bells on."

With a tight budget and shooting schedule, Holofcener wasn't counting on "Friends With Money" becoming the most intensively covered indie shoot of 2005 thanks to the off-screen drama going on in Aniston's life.

"It was particularly difficult because the paparazzi were really worked up. There were shots spoiled by flashbulbs," the director told The Post.

She praised Aniston's ability to "really focus and act, even though some guy was taking pictures literally inches from her face."

In "Friends With Money," which Sony Pictures Classics plans to open in April, Aniston plays a struggling single housecleaner who has wealthy, married pals, portrayed by Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack.

"I'm the youngest of the group, and everybody's sort of married and evolved in their lives and I'm pretty much the drifter, the lost little sheep and I have a little bit of a pot smoking issue," Aniston told the Australian Web site moviehole.com.

"My friends all have money and I don't so it's about how we deal with relationships and how money will affect friendships."

Holofcener recruited her star through mutual friend Keener, who appeared in the director's two earlier movies, "Lovely & Amazing" and "Walking and Talking" (which debuted at Sundance in 1996).

She's a dedicated actor, and she wanted to do something interesting," Holofcener says of Aniston. "Her character suffers incredible humiliations, and she was really up for it with grace."

In one scene, Aniston's character has sex with her sleazy boyfriend (Scott Caan) while they're cleaning somebody's house -- an episode that climaxes with his demanding a cut of her housecleaning fee and his leaving for Christmas dinner with a high-school sweetheart.

The actress had reservations about her costume for the scene: a scanty French maid's outfit.

"She was concerned about how revealing the outfit was going to be, and the kind of pictures that might get loose," Holofcener says.

"And, of course, they appeared everywhere, which was sort of a mixed blessing for the movie."

So will the media crush surrounding the premiere at Sundance of "Friends With Money," though, unlike at the debut of "The Good Girl," Aniston will not be on Pitt's arm (Vince Vaughn seems like a possibility).

Pitt produced a documentary feature at this year's festival, but will not be in attendance at Park City -- he's busy with his other production, the child he is having with Angelina Jolie -- which will increase the attention on Aniston's even more at her first public appearance since the happy couple broke the news.

Which doesn't seem to faze Aniston at all.

"If you're happy with the movie you did then it's great," she told Moviehole. "Plus, you get to ski a little bit and wear snow boots."