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Is Ben Affleck beyond help?

A comedy could be just the thing to save this tabloid-abused little puppy’s career. By Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Ben Affleck got off to a smart start in Hollywood — appearing in “Dazed & Confused” as anger-management poster boy Fred O’Bannion, bolstering that indie cred with a few Kevin Smith movies, then pulling down an Oscar with former BFF Matt Damon for “Good Will Hunting.” Six or seven years ago, Affleck seemed poised to write his own ticket.

Alas, at about the same time, Affleck stopped reading the scripts he accepted, starring in expensive but drecky blockbusters like “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor,” dating every Jennifer he could put hands to, and positioning himself as the public face of…poker?

Affleck has nearly completed the transition from writer/actor to celebrity/Hollywood Square — can he do anything to stop the inexorable slide into “Love Boat”-guest-dom? Or has he doomed himself to a life of “famous for being famous”?

Tara Ariano
God, isn’t it depressing to think that, by the age of 32, he could have already screwed up his entire career beyond all hope of repair? And yet, if anyone’s done it, Ben Affleck has. You know, he dated …on purpose…in a year starting with a “2” …and he’s smart enough to know: live by the “Us Weekly,” die by the “Us Weekly.”

Affleck is, no question, kind of a self-important ass. On one level, anyway. (Yes, he has more than one level. But maybe not more than two.) I think that, post-”Good Will Hunting” — and especially post-Oscar for same — he had some idea that he had to act less like the funny, loud-mouthed boob he played in the movie and more like the tuxedoed scribe who accepted the award for writing it. Except I really think his natural personality is a lot closer to Chuckie Sullivan’s, and that if he’d just make his peace with that and quit showing up on red carpets plying his squinty Blue Steel look or stumping for Kerry (dude, we know you didn’t vote in the last election, so…don’t help), we’d all like him much better, and he’d be much happier.

This is why “Surviving Christmas” may end up doing his career more good than a lifetime of “Paychecks.” He’s naturally funny — he even has a sense of humor about himself — and he’s better in roles where he gets to demonstrate that than he is in roles where he’s trying to save Baltimore from nuclear bombs.

Sarah D. Bunting
I agree with you — Affleck should probably stick to comedies, or to funny second-banana roles in more serious movies. I get the feeling that he finds the idea of himself as A Dramatic Thespian faintly ridiculous; he spent most of his screen time in “Bounce” and “Forces of Nature” looking like he wanted to burst out laughing, at the script and the “wacky” antics of his miscast co-star respectively.

But the problem with Affleck’s career isn’t the roles he takes (although “Pearl Harbor” is not what I would call a great choice). It’s everything else he does: dating high-profile actresses; show-offily attending Red Sox games, probably in a miscalculated attempt to “keep it real”; spending more time playing Texas Hold-’Em than subjecting sequel scripts to the proper consideration. Affleck’s job right now isn’t “actor.” It’s “being Ben Affleck.”

He could stand to take a more selective approach with movie roles, but what he really needs to do is drop off the radar for a while — working on “Project Greenlight,” maybe, but concentrating primarily on staying out of the pages of “Us Weekly.” And on not signing to star opposite Jennifer Grey in anything, because — enough already with that.

We can’t miss him if he won’t go away, is my point. Although the fact that DreamWorks is dumping a Christmas movie into theaters before Halloween might expedite the going-away process. That movie looks baaaaaad.

Tara
Aw, you think? It made me chuckle a little when I saw it. I don’t know anything about it except that it has Affleck completely committed to acting like a hyperactive goof, which is an Affleck I enjoy.

You’re absolutely right about his escapades as a famous person, as opposed to what (little) he does as a professional actor. The J.Lo thing was just bizarre; I know I came up with a few theories as to how it could happen (eventually settling on the explanation that his substance-abuse problems have left him with cripplingly low self-esteem, such that he doesn’t think he deserves to be with anyone better than Lopez, and/or that he was with her to punish himself).

BUT, in his defense, I give Affleck credit for, after their parting, publicly acknowledging that their coupling was a mistake. At least he doesn’t act like he places a premium on privacy (and he can’t, ever, now that he co-starred in the “Jenny from the Block” video) when he’s asked about his personal life, unlike a certain untalented Latina “triple threat” who hasn’t even confirmed her marriage to a certain manorexic crooner.

Affleck is like your college friend — we all had one — who would drink too much at parties and embarrass you sometimes and hook up with boring girls he shouldn’t have, but was the first to make fun of himself for it and was still fun to hang out with…occasionally. And I completely agree with you that (to continue the analogy) he needs to stay home now and then so that he doesn’t wear out his welcome.

Sarah
“We all had one”?

Heh. Anyway. I think you’ve hit on something interesting with your rationalization of Bennifer Part I. I agree that Affleck doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously, and it’s a definite asset in his position — if you make a “Gigli,” you’d better be able to chuckle at yourself for it.

But it occurs to me that he doesn’t take himself seriously enough — that, in a way, the whole acting-career thing is just a lark to him, so he doesn’t bother vetting his schedule to prevent crud like “Reindeer Games” from happening. Or maybe it’s that he thinks he can’t do any better than “Jersey Girl” and its half-baked ilk, and he doesn’t turn anything down because he thinks he won’t get any other offers.

In short, the theory that he has low self-esteem is a solid one, because it would explain a lot. It would also make me feel bad for ripping on him, which I do anyway, a little, because…J.Lo. He’s taken enough abuse already, probably.

So, I guess Affleck needs to take a break, decide where he wants his career to go, and do a few Stuart Smalley affirmations in the mirror each time his agent sends a script over.

He might also consider using the time off to get a hot oil. He’s handsome, but the hair is kind of a problem.

Tara
Well, if it’s even his. There are rumors that it doesn’t need hot oil so much as a vacuum cleaner.

But that’s a question for another day.

Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting are co-creators and co-editors of