The Birthday Series – Gigli (2003)
Why don’t some films work? What goes wrong? Possibly the talent isn’t there. The acting isn’t up to scratch. The writing is lazy, or the directing is unimaginative and amateurish. Maybe an actor is miscast. There are many reasons why many films don’t work, but there aren’t many that don’t work quite so spectacularly as ‘Gigli’.
Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck) is a low level enforcer for the Los Angeles branch of the mob. His boss Louis (Lenny Venito) orders him to kidnap Brian (Justin Bartha), the mentally disabled brother of a Senator. It seems that the Senator is close to bringing charges against Louis’ boss in New York and by kidnapping his brother he hopes to extort him into dropping the charges. So Larry waltzes into a care facility and waltzes back out again with Brian in tow. Of course, it’s always that simple to kidnap a retard. Once he is safely stashed in Larry’s apartment, they are joined by another enforcer, in the shapely form of Ricki (Jennifer Lopez). Since Larry’s a bit of a loser, and a massive moron, he immediately hits on her. Unfortunately for him, Ricki (not her real name) is a lesbian! Dun! Dun! DUNNNNN!!!!!!
Okay, I’m going to try to objectively break this film down, and look at all the reasons why this didn’t work. I say objectively, because my memory of this film is that it was absolutely terrible, with no redeeming factors whatsoever and that I hated it with the fire of a thousand suns. Upon rewatching it, this is not the case. It’s still a terrible, godawful, assrapingly painful film, don’t get me wrong, but there are one or two things to appreciate, and all the ingredients are there for an okay film, but I’m intrigued about how it all went so wrong.
Without a doubt the films biggest problem. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez are so badly miscast in this film it’s mindboggling that anyone other than the marketing department thought they were a good fit for the characters. This is not a knock against either Affleck or Lopez (who I’m usually quite willing to knock), because I actually think they give pretty decent performances. But, and this is a big one, the performances they give are totally wrong for this film. If it were a romantic comedy then they would be right on the money. They definitely have chemistry, and you can tell they are actually trying to make their characters work. But neither actor manages to make their character believable, despite their best efforts. I couldn’t accept Lopez as a tough chick lesbian or Affleck as a tough guy mob enforcer. I was always aware that it was Ben Affleck talking tough with a Noo Yawk accent, or Jennifer Lopez monologuing about gouging some kids eye out. This comes down to casting decisions. Terrible, terrible casting decisions. And a special mention must go to poor Justin Bartha. Imagine struggling away for years trying to make it in Hollywood, and you finally get your big break in a big budget movie starring two huge stars…. aaaaaaaand you play a retard who raps along to hip hop and dreams of hanging out with the beautiful girls of Baywatch. I felt really bad for the guy, but since finding out he’s been banging one of the Olsen twins that sympathy has lessened substantially.
Almost as big a problem as the casting. This screenplay is so overwritten it’s no wonder no character is believable. There’s a scene, where Larry tries to seduce Ricki by explaining the sexual advantages that men have over women. Evolution has perfected the penis into the ultimate sexual instrument. Ricki then turns the tables on Larry and wins the game of seduction by explaining why the vagina is more enticing and powerful. This is actually a pretty well performed scene, but it’s so ridiculously overwritten and stagey that we become acutely aware that we are watching two actors performing a scene. The screenplay sits there, smugly regarding itself. It might possibly have read as a wonderful scene, but as filmed, it’s tedious and irritating (although Lopez doing yoga does have a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ I must admit). The curtain is raised and we can see the machinations of the screenplay and whatever little suspension of disbelief we have been able to muster is lost. And this happens numerous times during the film. There’s the aforementioned eyegouging monologue, as well as extended cameos from Christopher Walken and Al Pacino. These two cameo scenes, particularly the totally pointless Walken scene, stop the film dead in its tracks, and we are forced to patiently wait while it allows these two actors to deliver neverending streams of dialogue. And then there’s the simple issue of the main characters surname and the films title. What on earth possessed writer/director Martin Brest to give his main character a surname that requires explanation? “You pronounce it Jeelee. It rhymes with really.” That line is repeated multiple times. It’s not funny. It doesn’t add anything to the character. It only serves as an annoyance. So just call him Larry Smith or something for fucks sake.
What on earth has happened to Martin Brest? After Beverly Hills Cop and Midnight Run, which remains one of my all time favourite films, he seems to have lost the plot. ‘Scent of a Woman’, which was okay at best, is a film I’ve seen once and have no desire to revisit. ‘Meet Joe Black’ was painfully dull, and excruciatingly long. And ‘Gigli’ is the last nail in the coffin of his career. Three films on from the genius of ‘Midnight Run’ and his careers over? I’m at a loss to explain such an immediate (in terms of films, not time) decline in his talents. But, he has no one to blame but himself. He wrote and directed a terrible film that cost over $50 million but made just $7 million back. Not too many careers recover from that.
‘Gigli’ had a huge effect on the careers of Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez and Martin Brest. It killed Brests stone dead, and the far too prolific Affleck starred in just six films over the next four years. To put that in perspective, he starred in thirteen in the four years prior to this films release. That’s a new Ben Affleck film every four months for four years straight. When looked at in that light, the ‘Gigli’ effect is probably a good thing. Especially when the same sort of decline has hit Lopez’s career, which hasn’t really recovered. Afflecks, on the other hand, is now more interesting than it ever was. All hail ‘Gigli’!
For Droids a jolly good fellow!