Save for the Britney Spears meltdowns and Tom Cruise couch-jumping fiascoes of the world, public opinion on any given celebrity is usually a pretty static thing. Everyone likes Will Smith. People have generally good feelings about Reese Witherspoon. Many can’t stand Katherine Heigl lately, but it’s not like she isn’t a teensy bit deserving of all that ill will. What we’re getting at here is that, for being a generally likable celebrity who’s never gotten himself into a weird public spat with Matt Lauer, Ben Affleck is an oddly polarizing figure. His career hasn’t been unlike that of a politician in that his approval ratings have run a wide gamut over the years. (Remember those rumors that he was running for senator?)
This month he’s back in theaters as a stoner sidekick type in Mike Judge’s Extract, and it suddenly finally feels OK to embrace B-Fleck again. Why now? We think we’ve managed to distill Ben’s likability down to five simple tenets.
1. He’s the consummate sidekick. Ben’s original coming out party to the world came via the whirlwind success of Good Will Hunting and the Matt-and-Ben mania that surrounded it. Maybe Ben was a little envious of all the attention Matt was getting, but in the late ’90s, everyone wanted a Ben: a true blue best friend who would go on job interviews in your place and say ridiculous things and provide comic relief in your Oscar-bait Shakespeare movie.
2. Let’s all just admit that Ben Affleck-as-action-hero was a failure. The Sum of All Fears. Daredevil. Pearl Harbor. Armageddon. Does anyone have any desire to see these movies again, ever?
3. He’s more entertaining when he stops trying so hard to be attractive. We enjoyed Ben immensely as a bully in Dazed and Confused and a jerky rebound boyfriend in Mallrats. Not being the traditional leading man frees him up to provide his finely honed Affleckian foil charms. PopMatters says of Affleck in Extract: “Long haired, blitzed out, and blessed with no real moral compass, he provides Extract with some of its wilder moments.”
4. Bennifer was just too much for us. Think back to the Bennifer era, which celebrates its five-year nonniversary this month. At the very worst, Ben acted kind of obnoxious by getting a super-orange spray tan and flaunting their love. Really not the worst thing in the world, but everyone hated him, and the years 2002 to 2004 marked a string of so-so movies followed by a break from acting all together. After finding mild success with Hollywoodland, He’s Just Not That Into You, and his own directing projects, his comeback continues apace, having adopted a subtlety offensive that we think is really working.
5. We love Jennifer Garner and the kids, and we love Ben Affleck again by association. Easily the cutest family in US Weekly. Sorry, Brangelina.