friday night movie club

Like Ben Affleck, Gigli Deserves a Second Chance

Photo: Columbia/Revolution Studios/Kobal/Shutterstock

Every few weeks for the foreseeable future, Vulture will be selecting one film to watch as part of our Friday Night Movie Club. This week’s selection comes from Vulture contributor Anna Peele, who will begin our screening of Gigli on June 18 at 7 p.m. ET. Head to Vulture’s Twitter to catch her live commentary.

Let’s get this out of the way: Gigli isn’t a good film. It wasn’t good when it came out in 2003, and it’s definitely not good now. Its story is both myopic and convoluted, centered on a titular low-level Mafia member — that’s Ben Affleck — who kidnaps a developmentally disabled young man (the not-developmentally-disabled actor Justin Bartha, who also raps multiple times in the movie) and is aided by a lesbian henchwoman (Jennifer Lopez) whom Affleck successfully tries to seduce.

Every scene is oddly long and scored by stock midi music so jarringly banal that instead of enhancing the intended emotion, it evokes the opposite response. Lopez talking about the sensuality of vaginas while doing yoga in underwear is backgrounded by what sounds like the score of a Folgers commercial. (And not even one of the horny ones!) The tonal tension extends to genre: The film is ostensibly a romantic comedy, and though Lopez and Affleck are supposed to be professional mob enforcers, they eschew violence, which makes it especially jarring when another character shoots someone in the head and the camera jumps to a close-up of tropical fish eating freshly blown-out brains. Christopher Walken and Al Pacino pop in to pace around, shout, threaten the leads for one scene each, then disappear. During production, the film was snatched from its Academy Award–nominated director Martin Brest, reedited, and reshot with an entirely different ending. I hope it doesn’t spoil things to say that the original concept, in which Affleck dies, sounds a lot better than what they ended up with. Nor do I hope it ruins anything to say that Brest has not made a single movie since. Somehow, Affleck and Lopez manage to make his real teeth, her real accent, and their real chemistry seem fake.

Affleck and Lopez were, of course, engaged when Gigli premiered, 18 long years ago. Gigli is a time capsule of the (first) Bennifer era, complete with peak early-2000s wardrobe: Affleck in Swingers-esque bowling shirts and Lopez in denim of every aughts formulation, from sub-pubic-bone waistbands to exposed-button flies to no-pocket seamed asses to raw-edge unfurled hems. (All of these styles are also flared, obviously.) The parents of the cicadas driving you insane this summer hadn’t emerged from the ground when this movie was shot. And yet, with Affleck and Lopez reuniting, Gigli is suddenly, utterly relevant, possibly for the first time ever.

Like the plot of Gigli, Affleck and Lopez never quite made sense; a year after Gigli came out, they broke up, subsequently marrying partners with whom they had children. But somehow, I (and seemingly everyone else) am now desperately happy that they’ve reunited. And the film’s botched production and wretched reception as one of the worst movies of all time (6 percent on Rotten Tomatoes!), along with Affleck and Lopez, deserve another look. Just as their characters in the film converge as they strain to convince Lopez’s character that Affleck’s mobster is worth “hoppin’ the fence” for — that’s the “fence” of homosexuality, if you aren’t familiar with the Gigli lexicon — Affleck and Lopez seem to have become closer, too. Their separate shared experiences over the past two decades — kids, divorces, Oscar campaigns — have made them far less mismatched as middle-aged people than they ever were as a young movie and pop star. Maybe if we take another look — with new wisdom and patience, with different choices made and certain things (and raps by Justin Bartha) left unsaid — this time, things could be different.

Gigli is available to stream on Starz, and rent on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play.

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Like Ben Affleck, Gigli Deserves a Second Chance