As the saying goes: If at first you don’t succeed, try another Jen.
Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner reportedly got married Wednesday on a Caribbean island. It happened under a cloak of secrecy, although I’m sure several tabloids will have exclusive photos. And she’s pregnant, which is the worst-kept secret since it got around that Tom and Katie had been seen holding hands.
For Garner, the marriage matters not in terms of her career. She’s a respected actress with a reputation for being positive and upbeat and bringing sunshine wherever she goes, with the possible exception of the box office when “Elektra” came out. If she’s happy walking down the aisle with the man she loves, then we all should throw rice and wish her well. She’s a good person who deserves good wishes.
But Ben is a different issue, and all because of Bad Jen.
Yes, folks, in Ben’s world there is Bad Jen and Good Jen. The former is, of course, Jennifer Lopez, who isn’t bad like Lucifer, but simply a bad influence. Ben and Bad Jen had an extremely high-profile relationship. They were everywhere. You couldn’t drive to the market without getting a Ben-and-Bad Jen update. They were as ubiquitous as Starbucks and not nearly as necessary.
They were such an item, a term entered our lexicon: Bennifer. It served to identify their breathless pairing, but it also worked specifically for him, as it labeled him as the celebrity fool of the moment.
It should be noted that Ben Affleck has never been compared to Sir Laurence Olivier. He is a fine talent, and with some careful handling he could have been a reliable leading man in solid projects who delivers the goods without making you nauseous.
No such luck. As happens often in Hollywood, he took whatever capital he earned in well-received projects like “Chasing Amy” and “Good Will Hunting” and went a little goofy in the head, no doubt with help from his agents. He started thinking he was Nicolas Cage, which is dangerous because Nic went awry for a while there thinking he was Bruce Willis.
Ben appeared in a series of movies that did little to push him further toward someday accepting AFI’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Pictures like “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor” and the terrible triumvirate — “Gigli,” “Jersey Girl” and “Surviving Christmas” — cemented his status as fodder for water cooler ridicule.
His highly public relationship with Bad Jen only added to his woes. When somebody says, “You can have it all,” be careful what “all” means. In his case, it referred to a career making oodles of cash and a fling with a beautiful and famous performer. But there’s a different type altogether that Ben should have pursued.
It looks like a light bulb finally went off inside his dome. Let’s hope it’s not too late.
There is nothing wrong with a guy dating — and eventually marrying — a gorgeous and successful woman. In fact, it’s probably the preferred course of action for nine out of 10 men. By hooking up with Good Jen, this will not only make his personal life less transparent and more satisfying, but with any luck it will have a ripple effect on his career.
The film business is all about perception. Tom Cruise is a splendid current example. He used to fly so low under the radar that all you could ever detect was teeth. Now he’s ruining sofas and trashing psychiatrists. Meanwhile, Hollywood moguls are fidgeting. They admire tranquility in their actors’ lives. It serves to focus attention on the product. Tom is being perceived now as somebody whose behavior is having a negative effect on box office receipts, which might mean a decreased willingness for movie execs to go into the Tom Cruise business.
Now consider Ben, who is no Tom. Ben can’t open a movie like Tom. Ben didn’t have years of bankability on his resumé before he unleashed his personal life onto an unsuspecting public; he went celebrity bananas before amassing the requisite amount of respect.
With his marriage to Good Jen, he’s on the road toward rebuilding his image. He has tied the knot with somebody the public doesn’t necessarily adore, but likes a lot. Good Jen is like everybody’s favorite sister, unlike her Bad counterpart, who was everybody’s evil stepsister. Good Jen won’t throw a tantrum because the sheets on the hotel bed are 800 threadcount instead of 1,000. Good Jen won’t refuse a magazine interview unless she’s guaranteed the cover. And Good Jen will never, ever use a fleet of limousines to move from one luxury hotel to another a block away.
Ben and Good Jen met on the set of “Daredevil,” a project which was not a brainy move for either of their careers. But it should probably serve as a reminder to both about where they’ve been and where they’re going together.
Good Jen is admired enough that she can indulge in an occasional stinker and still survive. However, now that she’s Mrs. Ben Affleck, she needs to be choosier. She can’t allow the stigma of his previous professional missteps to overlap onto her own career. If she does a mindless action picture that does no business, critics will lump her in with her hubby.
Conversely, Ben should use this opportunity to change his life, both personally and professionally. Aside from the occasional Red Sox game, he and his new bride should steer clear of appearing in public. So far, seclusion seems to be agreeing with them. Let’s hope it stays that way. And when scripts come in, he now has an intelligent better half to tell him that “Surviving Christmas II” is a really bad idea.
Congratulations, Ben and Jen. Now go away and stay there. You’ll be glad you did.
Michael Ventre lives in Los Angeles and is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.