Everyone’s so worried about spoilers surrounding the big twist in Gone Girl, but there is one twist that David Fincher might not have planned for with his latest blockbuster: how much everyone hates Ben Affleck. It’s even keeping some people from seeing the movie. Yes, with a $38 million opening weekend, plenty of people will continue to see the movie, but many will do so in spite of Affleck, not because of him. I bet no one saw that twist coming!
There are plenty of people with specific reasons to hate Ben Affleck that are superficial and easily dismissed. There are people who don’t like his liberal politics (especially in light of his recent kerfuffle with Bill Maher). Then there is the legion of comic fans who are upset that he’s going to play Batman.
However, there are other people with more vague grievances that are harder to dispute, like his perceived shortcomings as an actor. “I’ve hated Ben Affleck since I saw Good Will Hunting, which is really terrible. And I don’t think he’s ever been good in anything,” says Sam Stecklow, a 19-year-old student from Chicago. Well, at least that’s a little more concrete than people who just hate his chin.
Another common theme of Affleck animosity seems to be his attitude or some sort of implied douchiness. “There are a multitude of reasons why I hate Ben Affleck,” says Alexandra Snyder, a 25-year-old community-relations manager from Washington, D.C. “First is his naturally douchey demeanor … He is so goddamn pretentious … He is like an ugly frat guy.”
It’s funny, because people hate Anne Hathaway because they say she has false humility, but they hate Ben Affleck because he has no humility whatsoever.
But I think all this hatred goes all the way back to 2001, during his Bennifer days. (It was more than a decade ago—don’t you feel old?) He and Jennifer Lopez were canoodling on the cover of every tabloid and giving each other outrageous gifts. Not only did that enter us into the age of the ubiquitous relationship portmanteau, but it also ushered in the current state of the celebrity-gossip-industrial complex, which has included everything from Britney Spears with her shaved head to countless pictures of Kaley Cuoco and her pink chandelier wedding cake.
Affleck and Lopez’s relationship, which was covered more than climate change and Ebola combined, came at a time when Affleck was vying for leading-man status in the wake of his 1998 Oscar win for Good Will Hunting, which he co-starred in and co-wrote with his BFF Matt Damon. His bid for Hollywood A list didn’t go over so well. Affleck fizzled in Reindeer Games, which was followed by the high-profile bombs Pearl Harbor, Changing Lanes, The Sum of All Fears and Paycheck. Then there was his much-hyped and much-hated turns with Lopez, in Jersey Girl and Gigli. Ugh, Gigli. It’s still an easy punch line after all these years.
This combination of attention and failure is what caused so many to sour on Affleck permanently. We were seeing him on the cover of Us Weekly looking like the biggest star in Hollywood, but we all knew that no one wanted to see him in a movie. It was like he was being needlessly foisted on us no matter where we looked, and every time we saw him, he looked rich and smug and horrible. It was almost impossible to escape the feeling that he was being needlessly foisted upon us by Hollywood, a product whose supply far outpaced its demand, a syndrome known in some quarters as the Colin Farrell Paradox.
“He made some horrible film choices while trying to convince the audience he was the One: the actor, writer, action star, humanitarian playboy the world was waiting for,” says Kay Wigs, 31, a government employee who lives in Washington, D.C. “He wasn’t the One. He’s that Dude. That dude you always think would be fun to invite to a party but quickly realize, Nope. Not only did he break into the good booze without asking, he stole your iPod and drove your mom’s car into a lake.”
It didn’t help that Matt Damon, Affleck’s constant foil, seemed to take the opposite track. His bet on franchise success, the Bourne movies, was a runaway critical and commercial smash, and even his smaller movies were praised and well seen. He also decided to shun the spotlight and marry a woman no one had heard of instead of getting engaged to the world’s biggest pop star.
But Affleck didn’t marry Jenny from the Block; he ended up marrying another Jennifer, and Ms. Garner is just as famous as the last one. The thing about Affleck is that people don’t see that he’s changed. He still married someone who can easily secure the cover of People. He is making better movies now, but mostly as a director. He appears to regard himself so highly that he thinks he should be the one helming the film.
His switch to the director’s chair has given his haters even more ammunition, since he apparently can find only one actor good enough to cast in the lead role in his films: himself. His movie Argo won Best Picture at the Oscars but has the dubious distinction of being only the fourth movie to win that award without its director being nominated and the first since Driving Miss Daisy in 1990. His career seemed to be back on track, but he still couldn’t get any love from the Academy. Because people don’t think Affleck has changed or been humbled at all, they will never forgive him for his past.
Even with all the praise he’s getting for Gone Girl, many of Affleck’s detractors say he does so well in the role because the not-as-good-as-he-thinks character he plays is really just Affleck in disguise. After all, Fincher even cops to casting the actor after seeing countless photos of his insincere lopsided grin. Actors never get credit for playing a role that is close to who they really are. Just look at Courtney Love’s underappreciated turn as a destructive druggie in The People vs. Larry Flynt.
If we haven’t forgiven Affleck in the almost 15 years since Bennifer, is it ever going to happen? It’s doubtful, but there could be an erosion over time. If he keeps making enough good movies, eventually people might start to hate him less, or see the hate as futile and let it go, moving on to a new target. It wouldn’t hurt, though, if he pulled a Woody Allen and started getting some other leading men in front of his camera. Or maybe he could borrow some of Angelina Jolie’s juju and dedicate himself to humanitarian efforts for a bit. After all, she pulled off the great magic trick of making the public forget that she is a former bisexual who wore Billy Bob Thornton’s blood around her neck and made out with her brother on the red carpet at the Oscars. (Fun fact: that sibling kiss happened in 2000, the year before Bennifer was born, so complete image turnaround was possible in that time span if Affleck had dedicated himself to it.)
Maybe his turnaround could start with Gone Girl. Kay, one of the Affleck afflicted who talked to me for this story, says the movie changed her mind about him. “He was spot-on—indifferent, uncomfortable to watch, yet funny,” she says. “Maybe he is the One. Oh God, maybe we are all wrong about Ryan Reynolds too. Ryan Reynolds, future Oscar winner for The Benazir Bhutto Story.”
Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New York magazine and a few other safe-for-work publications.