As a cultural barometer for schadenfreude in the world of modern cinema, I am always on the lookout for the next project on which to turn my critical eye. Be it a new release or an old chestnut, I am dedicated to seeking out the movies that, whether forgotten or soon-to-be-forgotten, will measure up to the “So Bad It’s Good” scale. Recently, I looked at my local movie listings, hoping to find something worth adding to my library of such films. I ecstatically discovered that Ben Affleck’s Surviving Christmas was playing at the Cineplex. Here is a theoretically perfect movie for my particular brand of reviewing. It is clearly insipid, based on a hackneyed, unbelievable plot, and starring several movie stars who are clearly slumming for the paycheck. In three years, they will all regret appearing in this movie, and will all hope that it fritters away into movie oblivion. Therefore, it is the responsibility, even duty, of people like me to go out, see this piece of shit, and give a detailed critique of whether or not it deserves to be forgotten, or remembered as a tool for ridicule for those involved. With this in mind, I made my arrangements for a night out at the (holiday comedy) movies.
But I couldn’t do it.
When push came to shove, I could not bring myself to pay money to see such a movie. And if I think long and hard about it, I have to admit that even if I were spending someone else’s money, I still couldn’t subject myself to Surviving Christmas.
There are two reasons for this. One is that there have been an inordinate number of shitty Christmas-themed comedies over the years (See: Cranks, Christmas with the and Clause, The Santa), and to give even one dime to such a project is to ensure that there will be more of them. Frankly, there is so much Christmas crammed down our throats every year as it is, that I cannot be a part of any statistic that leads someone to think there should be more. Two is that, to see a movie that is clearly so poorly thought out and executed at every level, yet with a smug certainty around it that it will make a ton of money, is to send the wrong message to those involved. I refer not just to the director, writers, producers, and executives, but perhaps most importantly, to its star Ben Affleck.
Affleck, since bursting onto the national scene about a dozen years ago, has gone from being merely a bad but inoffensive actor, into a “star” of the worst kind; a celebrity-fucking, money-grabbing, self-satisfied, camera-mugging, “capital-S” Star. [Writer’s note: Affleck has actually only been famous for seven years. It just feels longer, I guess.] He is a walking joke who doesn’t realize that he is the punchline, and the worst part is that he will forever be insulated from knowing this about himself due to his handlers, agents, money, and trophy chicks. So my role is therefore clear. Instead of a review of a shitty Ben Affleck movie, this will become an essay about a shitty actor named Ben Affleck. If he won’t learn, maybe the rest of us can.
A quick look at Affleck’s “filmography” (that word seems pretentious as hell, even when not referring to talent-free hacks) shows two distinct realities for Ben. From his first role as a child actor in 1981, right up until 1997, he had the career that he deserved; a marginally successful if completely non-glamorous one. In addition to starring in the made-for-TV movie The Voyage of the Mimi (as well as the sequel The Second Voyage of the Mimi), he worked in little-known TV shows and movies, found himself in a Danielle Steel adaptation, had an uncredited walk-on role on an episode of Buffy, and played a character named “Chesty.” If he had continued in this vein, he would have remained a working, if never fabulously successful, actor. This is the perfect niche for someone of Affleck’s abilities, and it is a shame that he did not remain there.
(A quick note on this last sentiment: to those unfamiliar with the world of acting, the above paragraph might seem unduly harsh. Why would anyone wish mediocrity and failure on another person, not to mention another person you don’t even know? However, the fact is that, in Hollywood terms, the list of credits above would be considered a HUGE success for 98 percent of actors out there. I don’t know if many people are aware of that. A friend of mine once wrote a screenplay featuring a character who was, in his words, a “failed actor.” That character explained his employment as doing “one or two commercials a month.” This is absurd. In reality, as another friend of mine, who does live in Hollywood, put it, one commercial justifies a year of failed auditioning. That’s the truth. So, even as I now attempt to derail the runaway train that is Ben Affleck’s career, please note that I am not, nor was I ever, wishing that he fail utterly. Rather, I think, based on his talent and ability, he deserved as much success as he had prior to his becoming a Property. Well, maybe a bit less success than that. But now we’re splitting hairs.)
As we all know, this all changed for Affleck with the release of Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy. Affleck starred as Holden McNeil, the comic book writer (or artist, I forget) who starts dating a lesbian, only to ultimately lose her due to his own jealousy and fear at her past. I remember liking this movie pretty well, and even thinking that the star of it was pretty okay. He was a bit too much of a doofus to play any kind of stud like he was, and he wasn’t fooling anyone with his little beard thing, but he didn’t embarrass himself or the casting director.
In retrospect however, it seems clear that the Hollywood machine was already starting to churn. By the end of this same year, Affleck would be one half of the most talked about Hollywood romance of the season, and plans were already in the works to turn him from an actor, into an Actor.
That’s right, this was the year of Office Killer. No, wait! Sorry, Office Killer was, apparently, another shitty movie taken by the still unknown Ben Affleck. Once he became known Ben Affleck, dreck like that wouldn’t do. As a result, his scenes were cut from that movie.
Coincidentally, 1997 was also the year of Good Will Hunting. The story of this movie is already lore: two friends, both largely unknown actors, create a screenplay that gets studio executives and OSCAR™ whores alike trembling, and they are allowed to sell, as well as star in, their creation. As 1997 drew to a close, these two became the talk of all the gossip magazines, as people suddenly considered them shoo-ins to win Academy Awards, giddily discussed their future projects, and assumed that they were gay lovers. (Some of us still do.) No doubt about it; Ben Affleck had ARRIVED.