Why I Changed My Mind: Ben Affleck

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My ex-boyfriend and I were at the movies in Reykjavik once when a preview for the film Hollywoodland, which starred Ben Affleck, appeared. The text that flies across the screen in the beginning of films with an authoritative voiceover read: “Academy Award Winner Ben Affleck” and my then-beau, despite hating people who talk in movies, whispered, “What? Ben Affleck won an Oscar?” At the time it was for his co-writing of Good Will Hunting, but seeing this “news” disappointed the guy – how could Ben Affleck win an Oscar? (Long before Argo won for best picture – note the guy isn’t likely to win any acting awards.)

Ben Affleck has long been the butt of jokes – we are not the first to make them, but the joking days may be (at least close to) over. After a lot of poor role and film choices and very public relationships (most notably with Jennifer Lopez), Affleck put his head down, made some good choices, started directing, married Jennifer Garner and had a family. I also would argue that he is not someone who overreaches – I respect actors who choose roles that may challenge some perceptions about them and may challenge their own abilities, but not so far out there that they become totally unbelievable. Affleck never bites off much more than he can chew.

The reason I decided to write about him now, though, is that I read in Mother Jones about his upcoming Congressional testimony on Congo. I don’t really like the way the article defends Affleck’s so-called authority on the subject:

“It’s pretty easy to laugh at the idea of the one-time Gigli and Pearl Harbor star now lecturing senators on atrocities in Central Africa. But the Oscar-winning future Batman knows his stuff. He isn’t some celebrity who just happened to open his mouth about a humanitarian cause (think: Paris Hilton and Rwanda). The acclaimed Argo director has repeatedly traveled to Congo and has even met with warlords accused of atrocities.” (Italicized emphasis mine.)

This kind of statement makes it sound as though just showing up a few times and having a few meetings with warlords imparts expertise. How do we know that these warlords did not just meet with Affleck because they liked Gigli and Pearl Harbor – and they spent their meetings talking about that together? I also don’t want to discount his expertise – I don’t know whether he has any or what the depth of it is.

Compared to a lot of people being named as ambassadors to countries they have never visited (see The Daily Show’s hilarious take on the “diplomat buyers club”) and have no connection to or knowledge of, I’d say Affleck’s got a leg up. I would also venture to say that most of the Congressional members hearing testimony from Affleck or from the line-up of Central Africa/Congo experts know nothing about the subject, if anything, about Africa as a whole. Comparatively speaking, Affleck is bloody well an expert.

Considered, reconsidered – I used to think Ben Affleck was a joke – as an actor, entertainer and, had someone laughably suggested, as a “Congo expert”. As I stated, though, the guy does not overreach when it comes to his acting, seems to have a healthy sense of self and good sense of humor about who he is – and then “does the time” when it comes to serious issues in which he chooses to get involved – and bottom line – he really does not have to. I have a newfound respect for the guy and have come to appreciate some of what he’s done cinematically. Quite honestly, as well, any light we (or he) can shine on atrocities in DR Congo is also welcome.

Me, I am just happy to take a look at the DR Congo passport (again!)

Congo passport

Congo passport

 

Why I Changed My Mind: Minnie Driver

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During my recent headache-inspired film-viewing overdose, I randomly decided to see the film The Governess, starring Minnie Driver and Tom Wilkinson.

While some actors, actresses, musicians or writers strike me the wrong way right off the bat (and I later change my mind), I have no rational explanation for why I decided I did not like Minnie Driver. It was not her performances (all of which were superb, right from the beginning, e.g. Circle of Friends, or one of my all-time favorites, Big Night). There was just something about her that rubbed me the wrong way. Many actors I have disliked and about which I later changed my mind evolved or grew more into themselves, which explains the evolution of my opinions about them. It might not even be about their performances or their aging gracefully into different roles so much as it is about the roles they are actually offered.

But none of this was applicable to Ms Driver. Unlike someone like Kim Dickens, about whom I changed my mind, I did not groan to myself if I knew Driver was in a film – I still watched and enjoyed it. For a while she seemed to be everywhere and showed a great range – period pieces, drama and humor, smaller parts to leading roles, and eventually film to television. Arguably she is a bigger star than most of the people I sat on the fence (and eventually jumped to one side or the other) about – a fact that made her harder to avoid, had I wanted to.

It was not until I saw her in the underrated TV show The Riches (which itself was something I avoided during its original run) that I began to respect the depth of her talent. I think a lot of people sort of fell in love with her when they saw her in Good Will Hunting, but for me, I guess I could have fallen in love with her work, so to speak, much earlier if I had really been paying attention. Her work in the aforementioned Big Night was subtle and insightful, her turn as Debi in Grosse Pointe Blank was believable (in the most broad and comprehensive way – “believable” makes it sound like it was barely passable, when in fact I mean the opposite). Later her memorable TV appearances proved that she was also not afraid to make fun of herself and to make fun in general (Will & Grace in particular, but also more recently in Modern Family).

Considered, reconsidered – being in the public eye and putting oneself out there for the world to see, while a choice, is a vulnerable act. Actors are scrutinized constantly, so the armchair criticism of someone like me – on an individual level – does not matter much. But on the whole, if exposed to this constant criticism en masse – I cannot imagine it’s fun. The public’s – and fandom’s – taste is fickle.

That said, Minnie Driver has been delivering top-notch performances all along.