Flop Era: Gigli – Bennifer Is Happening Again
Our series on film flops continues with Gigli, the infamous movie that Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck made during their first go-round. In case you’re new here, you should start the Flop Era with Ishtar. There, for example, I explain a little bit about how I’ll be choosing these movies. And in case I forgot to mention it, I’ll also consider requests. I’m excited to see what the future will bring. But for now, let’s continue the Flop Era with Gigli.
Gigli: Why Was This Movie a Flop?
image via Sony Pictures Releasing
Like Ishtar before it, Gigli had the ignominious distinction of reaching flop status before it ever even darkened a theater. And as with Ishtar, it’s a little fuzzy as to why. Part of it probably had to do with the public reaction to “Bennifer,” the romantic coupling comprising Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. Celebrity tabloid culture has always been wild, ever since its invention, with a focus on scandals. However, once the internet became more widespread, so too did the presence of celebrity gossip sites. The internet didn’t popularize celebrity gossip, but it did help democratize it. Anyone could be a celebrity gossip, whether they were running a website or simply trading dirt on messageboards or in discussion groups.
So while Bennifer was really no different than any other big-name celebrity couple, they had the dubious fortune of being a couple during the flourishing of online gossip. Paparazzi photos were no longer confined solely to paper weeklies, but were duplicated across the internet, even before we all permanently hooked ourselves into social media. Maybe so many of us pored over celebrity gossip because we didn’t have social media yet. Or maybe it was the state of the world, and how all that turbulence made it so tempting to take a brain break.
Whatever the reason, in tabloid culture, it becomes an ouroboros or a Möbius strip of filth. We read all the content about Bennifer (or Britney or whoever), so tabloids start churning up more. Then we consume that, creating an even larger demand. And so on and so on until it creates a backlash. Add to that the fact that the Bennifer buzz just happened to center around Gigli, because Ben and Jennifer met on-set, and the backlash only grows.
So that’s probably part of what contributed to its floppiness. The other part? I don’t know. Maybe it’s that Gigli‘s a really terrible title. The English-speaker’s brain wants to read it as “giggly” or “jiggly.” Neither are great film titles. (Also, neither are the correct pronunciation. For one thing, the second g is silent. And as the Gigli, Affleck tells people that it rhymes with “really.” Uh, not in my accent.)
Further, it already had terrible buzz leading up to its release, thanks to bad test screenings. (More on that in a bit.) And finally, it had a high bar to clear, because its budget was a ridiculous $76 million, which I hope went to spa treatments for Lopez.
The One That Wasn’t Jersey Girl
Gigli, in fact, is so notorious that some people might not remember that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez made a whole other movie together. Well, Ben made a whole movie and Jennifer blipped through for like, a few scenes. That was 2004’s Jersey Girl, a Kevin Smith film that got marginally better reviews than Gigli (42% on Rotten Tomatoes to Gigli‘s 6%). And I saw it–it was cute. (If you would like more discussion, then please see our Senior Jersey Girl Correspondent, Joshua.)
And it’s got an appealing premise. You can’t really say the same for Gigli. In this one, Affleck stars as Larry Gigli (TERRIBLE name), a low-level mob enforcer. Louis (Lenny Venito), his boss, tasks him with a seemingly simple job. Kidnap Brian (Justin Bartha), the younger brother of a federal prosecutor, and hold him until a higher-level mob boss Starkman (Al Thee Pacino), can beat some pesky federal charges.
However, Louis apparently doesn’t believe that Larry can handle this gig on his own, probably because Larry’s a class-a asshole and Brian has special needs. So he sends in Ricki (Jennifer Lopez), kind of an underworld freelancer, to help. Larry and Ricki meet very uncute and prickle their way through scenes together until they inevitably bang, probably. (Isn’t Ricki a lesbian? Baby, don’t even worry about it.)
Flop Era: Gigli
Obviously, this is not the greatest plot. Unsurprisingly then, this is not the greatest movie. For most of its running time, for instance, Larry is obnoxious and obnoxiously unfunny (fatal for a supposed comedy). On the other hand, to use cliché review language, Jennifer Lopez lights up the screen every time she’s on it. Unfortunately, that’s also to the movie’s detriment, because from her first scene, she becomes the most interesting thing happening in any given moment. Even when they make her, say, deliver a stirring monologue about vaginas, complete with an inspirational swell of music in the background, she bodies the material. Jennifer Lopez always–ALWAYS–understands the assignment.
image via Sony Pictures Releasing
But again, that’s at the expense of the rest of this mess. Because while she’s being JENNIFER LOPEZ (in all caps), she’s mostly playing off two foils. One is Affleck, who, while he’s trying at best, made me think of Dazed and Confused‘s O’Bannion more than once. And while I quote that character to this day (“there’s some ruffians about”), he’s more of a suburban dickbag than a convincing mobster. But hell, at least he’s not stuck with Justin Bartha’s role, the character that Larry refers to as the r-word. (It was a bad time in America.)
Overall, though, Gigli‘s not the worst movie ever, and I’m sure worse movies came out that same year (2003). But maybe it could have been better. I was reminded of when I was listening to the History of the 90s episode about Friends. There was one detail that I found surprisingly stunning. When they were readying the show for broadcast, one of the NBC execs apparently gripped his pearls tight thanks to a plot point that saw Monica sleeping with a man on their first date. As such, he had a question included for the test audiences that basically asked if the audience agreed that Monica was a big ol’ trollop.
The audience ignored that, though, because they didn’t care. They just liked the character. Thankfully, the network trusted the audience and it paid off. Gigli, on the other hand, lost that bet. Test audiences apparently hated the first versions of the movie, which was darker and let the lesbian stay a lesbian (revolutionary!). So they recut the shit out of it, making a more light-hearted version in which a WLW who is, again, an actual goddess, rides off with a schmuck named Larry. Then again, I’m not sure anything could have helped the execrable dialogue, which includes a number of stinkers, including Ricki’s initiation of coitus with “It’s turkey time, gobble gobble.”
So Flop Era for Gigli? Status certified.
But again, that’s just like, my opinion, man. Tell me yours on our social media or in these comments.
featured image via Sony Pictures Releasing
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.