It looks like Ben Affleck is primed to consummate his return into America’s hearts this Sunday: “Argo,” his third project as a director, is the front-runner for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Though Affleck himself was not nominated for either Best Actor or Best Director, I think we can agree that a Best Picture win would be a win for Ben Affleck first and everyone else involved second.
I’ve written about Ben Affleck before (“Ben Affleck Suffers From Drew Barrymore Disease”), and even after seeing “Argo,” which was a good movie even with him in the lead role, I stand by my appraisal of his strengths: he’s best in supporting comic roles, and his mid-aughts downfall was the result of Hollywood trying to squeeze that square peg into the round hole of a dramatic leading man. (“Argo” works with Affleck in the lead largely because his character listens a lot more than he talks.)
Affleck’s career was in a downward spiral thanks to a string of missteps including: the unwatchable comic-book adaptation “Daredevil”; trying to follow Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford into the Jack Ryan franchise with the crappity “The Sum of All Fears”; a string of forgettable action thrillers (“Reindeer Games,” “Changing Lanes,”); and the leading role “Pearl Harbor,” one of the worst big big blockbusters ever aggressively marketed to the moviegoing public.
But it was his pairing with then-ladyfriend Jennifer Lopez in “Gigli” that really turned his career into a crisis. The movie got universally bad reviews and people still joke about it to this day — it’s the go-to shorthand for “bad movie.” But has anyone other than movie critics ever actually seen it? I haven’t seen it. Have you seen it?
I’m curious: what went wrong here? “Gigli” was directed by Martin Brest, who is responsible for one of my favorite movies ever (“Midnight Run”) and a bona-fide all-time classic (“Beverly Hills Cop”), both comic crime films, which if I’m not mistaken is what “Gigli” is. With Ben Affleck playing to his strengths (light comedy) and with a beautiful costar whom he apparently had some kind of chemistry with offscreen at the very least, why did this movie turn out to be such a disaster? Is it really even a disaster, or did people just pick on it because they disapproved of his relationship with J-Lo, or because he had worn out his welcome before this? Is this one of those movies people just didn’t understand? I didn’t love “The Big Lebowski” the first time I saw it but it has since become my favorite comedy ever. Could the same thing have happened with “Gigli”?
Strap in, folks, ’cause we’re about to find out!