Monday, September 20, 2010

Who Does Ben Affleck Think He Is?

What Happened to Affleck-ageddon?
What is your major malfunction F. Scott FitzGerald? We were promised "no second acts in American lives." Direct quote. You said it, F. Scott, so you explain the whole Ben Affleck situation to us. We thought the book closed on the Ben Affleck experience, but now The Town is trying to pry the book from our cold, dead hands. What if he turns out to be talented?

Let us catch you up. Come take a stroll down Ben Affleck memory lane. Bland pretty boy with an early career of supporting roles in middling dramas and a few leads in horrific movies like Reindeer Games, Phantoms and Forces of Nature. Inexplicably kept getting roles in Kevin Smith movies due, we think, to the fact Smith wanted a good looking dude to hang out with him. Won an Oscar for Best Publicity Stunt by a Weinstein for Good Will Hunting. Torpedoed the Jack Ryan franchise. Got Bruckheimer-ed twice for his trouble: Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. And gradually became better known for being one of J.Lo's concubines than his acting. By 2002, he was well on the way to becoming the male Catherine Zeta Jones...he was A-List but no one was really sure why...maybe just for being pretty.

Now, being the male Catherine Zeta Jones isn't the worst gig in the world (apart from pleasuring a flesh and bone Montgomery Burns) so no one felt bad for Affleck. He had a long, complacent career ahead of him. The universe had dealt fairly with the situation. Underdog Matt Damon had gained our grudging affection for somehow becoming a movie star despite resembling a garden gnome. And Casey Affleck seemed poised for his big reveal as the actual talent in the family. We were at peace. But then 2003-2004 arrived.

2003-04 saw Affleck break the record for consecutive career ending decisions previously held by Richard Nixon. Affleck stretched the record to five with Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck, Jersey Girl and Surviving Christmas. In that order. We'll put that five film run up against any career flame-out in history. You can't accidentally make five films that bad in succession. It's not possible, and you certainly can't come back from it. Just how bad are those five films? Well they've managed to rack up a combined twenty-five stars on IMDB. On a ten star scale, mind you. Gigil, with a 2.4, ranks just behind It's Pat on IMDB's list of the 100 worst films of all time. How bad are they? Well, it's been scientifically proven* that the most non-judgmental time is between two and five am on Saturday night. At 3 a.m. on a Saturday night, remote in one hand and a bowl of Ramen in the other, most guys will happily watch Office Space for the three hundredth time. It's the booty call of cable movies. But no one scrolls down their cable listings and pauses when they get to Daredevil or Paycheck...not even at 3 a.m. That's how bad those movies are. They're not even watchable pre-hangover.

*It has not been scientifically proven.

And like that, we were free of Affleck forever. His career was over. Sure he popped up now and again in cameo roles, and supporting parts. He was passable in Hollywoodland, which sold eleven tickets and critics gave him condescendingly positive reviews using phrases like "pleasantly surprised" and "doesn't totally suck the air out every scene" as if that's supposed to be a compliment. Collectively we judged him a washed up, talentless pretty boy. That was the agreed upon narrative: Oscar winner to punchline. We had judged Ben Affleck, and judged him harshly with the callous spite that the ordinary reserve for the famous. We were fat, self-satisfied and happy about it. 

The first sign of real trouble was Gone Baby Gone. It was good. We liked it though it pained us slightly to admit it. And it confused us because, you know, we'd put a lot of time into judging Ben already. Commence Operation: Tap Dance. Sure, we rationalized, it was pretty good but that was because Ben wasn't in it. Gone Baby Gone just confirmed that Casey Affleck was a talented actor covering for his brother. Sure, that's it. The fact that Ben directed was an inconvenient, but dismissible truth like a drunk guy hitting a half court shot at halftime of an NBA game. Never going to happen twice. Whew, problem solved.

But then the trailer for The Town looked pretty good, and we felt our ulcer start to act up. It couldn't be. It was just an illusion created by snappy editing. We would go and we would unmask Mr. Jennifer Gardner's latest film as the farce it had to be. We would confirm our mean spirited conclusions about his career. Well... that didn't happen. Apparently, we loved the movie. Well acted, well paced, with appropriately scaled ambitions given its genre. And Ben Affleck appeared to be a movie star. If we'd never seen the guy before we might say we were developing a small man-crush on him (call us Ben!). We feel a little ill. That wasn't how it was supposed to go down. And the ramifications are severe. If you can't write off Ben Affleck then who the hell can you write off? Picture all the people you thought were out of your life forever. What if they realize they can attempt an Affleck? Think about it. Paris Hilton sure is.

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