A Chance to Take It to the Next Plateau
Date of Assessment: September 17, 2010
Positive Buzzwords: Oscar, comeback, connections
Negative Buzzwords: Razzies, celebrity status, Gigli
The Case: A bit of remarkably relevant serendipity has occurred, so to speak, in terms of evaluating our current subject and hitting rather close to home. I'm speaking, of course, of the Casey Affleck/Joaquin Phoenix Portrait of the Artist as a Hot Mess (I'm Still
Not Here) and its portrayal of celebrity implosion as a spectator sport. Of course, Casey's steadily proving himself to be largely full of shit as he backpedals upon prior admissions by insisting that the project was not intended as a "quote, hoax, unquote." In the process of his post-release directorial meltdown, Casey shows himself to be just as capable -- in terms of self-inflicted career suicide -- as his brother has demonstrated in the not-so-distant past. Of course, this mockumentary itself shows itself to be a much more pronounced fall of a fiery fameball than if Casey had chosen, instead, to illustrate the rise and fall of his own brother Ben (who's best described in the words of Daniel Carlson as "The Celebrity Known as Ben Affleck"). Of course, Ben has a family to feed and would never have willingly participated in such a project, but the fall of Casey (at the hand of his own presumed cleverness, no doubt) is rather strange in regard to the Affleck brothers' dichotomy. Just when Casey's directorial aspirations have struck a defensive posturing and, consequently, a most embarrassing collapse, Ben's seemingly coming out on top with a "Who knew he had it in him?"-type of adeptness when it comes to pointing a camera.
Now, while Ben is experiencing a career resurgence due to his own steady improvement as an up-and-coming director, it's important not to forget that audiences still think of him in terms of an A-lister who managed to wear out his audience welcome. So, Ben's appeal as an actor can quite easily be generalized into two distinct eras: pre- and post-Good Will Hunting. When Ben was a hungry indie darling, he gave perfectly likeable performances in early works such as Dazed and Confused and a few of the Kevin Smith movies like Mallrats and Chasing Amy (see Holden's speech, which isn't perfectly delivered but warms up progressively). Then, Ben showed off his hunky side in a small role within Good Will Hunting, for which he and Matt Damon also won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Afterward, the two friends went in vastly different directions as far as acting careers go. Unfortunately, Ben opted in favor of bloated productions -- Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Daredevil, andPaycheck -- as well as movies such as Shakespeare in Love, Bounce, and Gigli (the latter of which proved, in no uncertain terms, that star power does not always translate into box-office success) that reflected Ben's "young man about town" reputation, which arose from regularly (and very publicly) dating his co-stars.
Before too long, Ben grew overexposed both as an onscreen presence and as a tabloid fixture. Complicating matters was a series of one-note, wooden performances that culminated with an unwitting induction into the Razzie Awards circle, which declared Ben to be 2003's Worst Actor (Daredevil, Gigli, and Paycheck) and, later, the Worst Actor of the Decade. Now, I do realize that there's a substantial group out there that will maintain that Affleck's really "not that bad." Well okay, but with thousands of eager and equally handsome actors out there, why should Ben Affleck get a free pass in the acting department for an occasional display of adequacy? Even worse, however, than dating and making movies with Jennifer Lopez is the fact that Ben still won't stop blaming JLo for his career failures in recent interviews. Naturally, Ben doesn't appear to acknowledge his own willing participation in the Bennifer phenomenon. At the time, he probably viewed this as good move, careerwise, since he's otherwise been a well-connected guy (from the insufferable Gwyneth Paltrow to current wife Jennifer Garner) in the romance department; and these strategically-aligned hookups aren't limited to the dating variety either. After all, his most important professional connection, Matt Damon, was forged back in high school.
Admittedly, not all of Ben's acting performances can be wholly written off, for a few flashes of inspiration indeed occurred within Boiler Room and Dogma (he and Damon were pretty badass as naughty angels), but stuff like this just wasn't enough to qualify Ben as a talented performer in the long haul. In short, Ben Affleck found himself quite nearly facing extinction as a Hollywood player. His solution, quite wisely, was to return to his roots as a screenwriter. Now, he's got Gone Baby Gone and The Town scripts under his belt, and Ben has proven himself worthy as a director for both of these movies. Damon favorably compares Ben to Clint Eastwood, but let's not go that far just yet. While Ben can also claim a bit of an acting comeback with roles in Hollywoodland and State of Play, he's quickly negated the good with nonsense like He's Just Not That Into You. Audiences may very well love a comeback story like this even if they don't particularly adore Ben Affleck himself, but I'd caution Ben to keep his ego in check and continue to hone his skills as a director while keeping the space invading to a minimum.
Prognosis: The basic recommendation here is quite simple -- Ben Affleck should focus upon directing and screenwriting with only the occasional onscreen role. If his past has been any indication at all, audiences can and will grow weary of Ben's good looks and charisma, which are appealing in small quantities but easily overwhelm even the least discerning of us.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.