Director : Martin Brest
Screenplay : Martin Brest
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2003
Stars : Ben Affleck (Larry Gigli), Jennifer Lopez (Ricki), Justin Bartha (Brian), Lenny Venito (Louis), Christopher Walken (Det. Stanley Jacobellis), Lainie Kazan (Mother), Missy Crider (Robin), Al Pacino (Starkman)
When film scholars look back on Gigli in 10 years (and, believe it or not, they will), it won’t be for any of its cinematic merits (the best thing I can write about it is that it isn’t as bad as many are making it out to be, although it comes pretty close). Rather, it will be of interest as a fascinating historical curio because it so fully embodies the paradoxical nature of stardom in the early years of the 21st century.
As everyone knows, Gigli stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, real-life lovers who fell in love on the set over a year ago and have since become every tabloid and infotainment magazine’s prize cover couple. Their mugs sell millions of magazines and even their most banal activities fill countless hours of water cooler chat, yet no one is going to see Gigli, which suggests that audiences these days prefer their stars to be full-time celebrities, rather than actors. In Hollywood’ golden age, audiences adored stars because of the way they personified dreams on-screen—they were literally larger than life. Stars like Affleck and Lopez have no discernible screen persona other than their other celebrityhood, which doesn’t play except in tabloids. They’re victims of their own misplaced popularity.
It doesn’t help, of course, that Gigli simply is not a good movie. It’s intended to be a quirky character study wrapped up in black comedy, but it never gets situated or adopts a coherent tone. Even if you remove the distraction of the Ben/J. Lo off-screen romance, the movie would still play as awkward, contrived, and often downright boring, although there are moments that very nearly work, such as a protracted scene in which Affleck and Lopez debate the relative merits of the male and female sexual organs.
Gigli (it rhymes with “really”) tells the story of a low-level mob enforcer named Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck), who is, for all intents and purposes, a nondescript lothario cliché. He is given a job by his boss, Louis (Lenny Venito), to kidnap Brian (Justin Bartha), the mentally disabled younger brother a federal prosecutor. Dealing with mentally disabled characters in movies is always tricky, as most that take the gamble either come off as pandering or insensitive. In this case, writer/director Martin Brest (Scent of a Woman, Meet Joe Black) manages to do both with Brian, who is never particularly sympathetic or engaging as a character. Rather, he’s a babbling plot point who also seems to be inexplicably cursed with Tourette’s Syndrome (maybe Brest just thought it was funny for the kid to cuss since everyone else does), although it’s hard not to smile in the movie’s most funny-bizarre scene when he starts singing Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” to himself while Gigli cuts the thumb off a corpse.
Now, enter Ricki (Lopez), a mob contractor brought in by Louis to make sure Gigli does his job because he doesn’t entirely trust him. Ricki is a beautiful hard case who, in her smiley, New Agey way, is much more sure of herself than Gigli and doesn’t have to act tough all the time to prove it. Oh, and she’s also a lesbian, which gives the romantic angle between her and Gigli a new hurdle.
Forget that neither Affleck nor Lopez are even remotely convincing as violent mob contractors; the movie is intended, I suppose, to be something of a parody of the crime genre. Worse is the fact that the two real-life lovers have little chemistry on-screen and, the way their characters are written, you find yourself rooting for Ricki to stick to her sexual orientation. It’s bad news for a romance when you don’t want to the leads to get together. Brest tries to generate sympathy for Gigli by suggesting that he is a scared little boy in tattooed tough guy armor, but the armchair Freudianism never takes hold. It’s just an excuse for him and Lopez to get in the sack.
The level of desperation apparent in Gigli is its most intriguing asset. There have been all kinds of stories about bad test screenings and last-minute changes to the ending, which at this point is so ambiguous that I genuinely wasn’t sure if Gigli and Ricki ended up together at the end. Brest tries to get laughs and also earn some genre legitimacy with a pair of weird cameo roles by Christopher Walken and Al Pacino, both of whom ham up their roles and almost make the movie worth sitting through. Walken, who plays a police detective, barges into Gigli’s apartment at one point and rambles for a while about the kidnapping of Brian before making a non sequitur product placement for Marie Callender’s pies, and Pacino, who plays a New York mob boss, spends most of his role yelling and making virtually no sense whatsoever. In any other movie, they would be distracting and irritating, but the roteness of Gigli makes distraction in any form attractive.
Copyright © 2003 James Kendrick