The Curious Case of Benjamin Affleck

BenAffleck

With more awards momentum than an overweight downhill skier, this Sunday many expect surprise hit Argo to take the Academy Award for best picture and give Ben Affleck his second Oscar win. But if the actor-turned-director is called upon to take the stage and receive the applause of colleagues at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre, he could be forgiven for pausing before picking up the famous statuette to count his lucky stars, as the time his credibility as an artist was in free-fall flashes before his eyes.

The moment it couldn’t possibly sink any lower came in August 2003, as Affleck’s then girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez, lay spread-eagled next to him on a bed, wearing little more than a dangerously short silk kimono. Rocking her legs seductively, she starred into her beau’s eyes and uttered the infamous words: “It’s turkey time.â€? With Affleck looking confused, she looked down between those lovely legs and followed up with the zinger: “Gobble gobble…â€?

Of course, this isn’t a transcript from a sex-tape of the couple that surreptitiously leaked onto the internet. It is an actual transcript of a scene from the film Gigli, which was proactively released in cinemas for a global audience to glare at in disbelief.

In case you are unfamiliar with the plot, a brief recap (spoiler alert). Affleck plays Larry Gigli, a mob underling charged with kidnapping the mentally-handicapped brother of a federal prosecutor leading the case against Gigli’s boss. His competency in doubt, a tough but still eminently desirable woman (Lopez) is hired to chaperone Gigli. She outs herself as a lesbian but cannot resist Gigli’s masculine charm and ends up eloping with him.

Predictably, Gigli tanked at the box office and the “turkey timeâ€? quote became a petard on which to hang everyone involved. Things looked even worse for Affleck. To have starred in a film that was withdrawn from US screens after only three weeks could have been the mark of death on a CV already laden with one too many turkeys.

It was an appalling turn of events for a once bright young thing who, five years earlier, had picked up the best original screenplay Academy Award with lifelong friend Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting, taken top billing in 1998’s big Oscar winner Shakespeare In Love and starred in the highest grossing film of that year, Armageddon.

After Affleck’s second outing with director and schlockmeister general Micheal Bay in 2001, however, his stock started to crash. Although another huge financial smash, Pearl Harbour was so badly mauled by the critics it became the butt of many a joke (including one of Team America: World Police’s many show-stopping songs). Most damaging for Affleck, it brought his first Razzie nomination for worst actor and a subsequent spell in rehab for issues with
alcohol.

And thus the pursuit of more mainstream success careered into 2003. Along with lead roles in Daredevil and Paycheck, Gigli brought a second worst actor Razzie nomination, while the short-lived relationship with Lopez saw him become one of the first victims of celebrity journalism’s woeful practice of combining couple’s names to make a single hybrid entity. Affleck became ‘Bennifer’ and looked all but down and out when the Razzies added insult to injury and added a third worst actor nomination for his turns in 2004’s Jersey Girl and Surviving Christmas.

Something had to give, and seemingly it was the decision to turn his back on brash blockbusters and weak comic fare that sparked a reversal of fortune. The revival began with the apt portrayal of a washed-up movie star (former Superman actor George Reeves) and the tragic circumstances of his demise in 2006’s Hollywoodland. It garnered the kind of awards nominations a performer won’t shudder at and, crucially, saw Affleck in the mix for best supporting actor at the Golden Globes.

The road to redemption lay before him, and the new, serious Ben Affleck, sped off down it. The following year saw his directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone, a solid crime drama that subverts the genre by questioning the value of the justice its protagonists seek. With the positive plaudits flowing once again, the berth behind the camera, as well as in front of it, for 2010’s The Town proved Affleck was fast becoming film’s latest renaissance man.

Fast forward to today and that status, perhaps his greatest achievement, is firmly secured, even without the more personal nod for best director. But whatever the outcome at the Oscars this weekend, in the back of his mind Affleck will know his recuperation as a heavyweight player amongst Hollywood’s A-list would make a most compelling come-back story in its own right.

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