A Look Back at ‘Gigli,’ the Infamous Bennifer-Starring Film, on Its 10th Anniversary
It was, as The Wall Street Journal called it, “The worst movie—all right, the worst allegedly major movie—of our admittedly young century.”
Gigli, the 2003 “comedy” by director Martin Brest—he of Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run, and Scent of a Woman fame—is the movie equivalent of the Hindenburg disaster. It became the first film in history to sweep the top five categories at the Razzies Awards, including Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Ben Affleck), Worst Actress (Jennifer Lopez), Worst Director (Brest), and Worst Screenplay (also Brest), making it the crap-movie equivalent of It Happened One Night. And The Onion, as is their wont, ran a story pegged to its release with the headline, “Gigli focus groups demand new ending in which Affleck and Lopez die.”
The film grossed under $4 million in its opening weekend, leading distributor Columbia Pictures to pull its ads for the movie, reported People. Then box office receipts dropped a whopping 81.9 percent in its second weekend—the largest box office drop ever at the time. By its third week of release, only 73 theaters were showing it, down from 2,215 opening weekend—a 97 percent drop (also largest in history). It went on to gross a total of $7.2 million worldwide against a budget that the studio initially reported as $55 million to cover its losses in the press, but was later revealed to be $75.6 million according to internal documents obtained by The Wrap. The film didn’t even come close to recouping its two stars’ alleged salaries—$12 million for Lopez, $12.5 million for Affleck.
A big reason that Gigli bombed with audiences is that it received a mountain of bad buzz prior to its release. Halle Berry is rumored to have dropped out of the Lopez role. From the first test screenings of the film, writer-director Brest allegedly butted heads with Revolution studio chief Joe Roth over everything from the final act to the movie’s notorious poster, which is rumored to feature a Photoshopped version of Lopez’s famous tush. Then, there was the off-screen relationship of stars Affleck and Lopez, who had begun dating in 2002, and became engaged in November of that year. The media, which covered their every move, dubbed them “Bennifer,” and started the trend of celeb supercouples being referred to by first-name portmanteaus. Affleck later called the period the “annus horribilis of my life.”
“I got shorthanded as That Guy: Jennifer Lopez, movies bombed, therefore he must be a sort of thoughtless dilettante, solipsistic consumer blahblahblah,” he recalled to Details. “It's hard to shake those sort of narratives. Anyway, this image becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I just said, ‘I don't want to do it anymore. This is horrible. I don't want to be in this spotlight, this glare, in this way. It's tawdry, it's ugly, it's oppressive, and it's inane.’”
(Ed Note: Every main actor in the film, as well as Gigli’s director and director of photography, refused to be interviewed for this story.)
Another reason the movie bombed is, well, it really is one of the worst movies of all-time.
The film follows a very Italian loan shark, Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck, ridiculous accent), who is paired with a lesbian “independent contractor” named Ricki (Jennifer Lopez), and forced to kidnap the mentally retarded younger brother of a federal prosecutor, Brian (Justin Bartha), in order to force the prosecutor to drop charges against a mob boss (Al Pacino).
“My name is pronounced Gee-Lee,” says Affleck’s character. “It rhymes with Really.”
And from his opening lines, it becomes clear that Affleck’s performance is utterly terrible. Clad in a series of bowling shirts, leather jackets, and wifebeaters, and with his hair slicked back, Affleck’s Gigli is like a hyperchauvinistic parody of Travolta’s Chili Palmer in Get Shorty, and speaks—nay, yells—all his lines in an absurd Jersey accent.
“The story resonated with me in a way that usually doesn’t happen when I read a script,” said Affleck in the film’s production notes. “It was extremely strange, unusual and heartbreaking.”
Well, it was—and is—heartbreaking. Affleck’s Gigli is one of the most unlikable, absurd protagonists in recent memory. He constantly bullies the dimwitted Brian, shoving him and screaming at him to “act fuckin’ normal!” And behold his “speech” to Ricki as they’re cooped up with Brian in Gigli’s apartment (where they spend about half the movie):
“I am the fucking Sultan of Slick,” he yells. “I am the Rule of Fucking Cool. You wanna be a gangster? You wanna be a thug? You sit at my fuckin’ feet, gather the pearls that emanate forth from me! ’Cause I’m the original, straight, first-born most pimp mac-fuckin’-hustler original gangster’s gangster!”
OK, while some of the blame falls on his exaggerated performance, a lot of it is also thanks to Brest’s god-awful dialogue. On several occasions, Affleck can barely keep his composure while delivering his lines. Here’s another rant, delivered to JLo:
“In every relationship, there’s a bull and a cow,” says Gigli. “It just so happens that in this relationship we’re in right here with me and you, I’m the bull. You’re the cow.”
Gigli is a horrible misogynist, as well as a homophobe (at one point, he calls Lopez’s character a “Dykeasaurus Rexi”). Before sharing a bed with Lopez, he pumps himself up in the mirror, showing off his bizarre bicep tattoos (a bed of roses, He-Man sword, alien) while doing mock-karate chops and shouting, ”Bull! Cow! That’s how that works! There’s your bull! There’s the horn!” God, I hope Scorsese never saw this.
Later on, after getting fed up by too many rejected advances toward Ricki, he unleashes a horrifying rant against lesbians:
“That’s why these lesbians are always going out and buyin’… spendin’ all their dough on like, ya know, sexual appliances and erotic monkey wrenches and shit, tryin’ to compensate for what they don’t have… The penis.”
Lopez’s Ricki, meanwhile, isn’t that much better.
“Ricki shows up out of nowhere and she’s a very self-confident, self-assured enforcer,” said Lopez in the film’s notes. “But then she starts quoting pearls of ancient Asian wisdom. Somehow, that doesn’t quite fit the profile.”
It really doesn’t. Lopez’s Ricki saunters around in a crop-top and jeans, exposing her ample derrière, and constantly regurgitates Asian philosophy (she also likes to wear kimono’s while having sex).
The sexual politics of Gigli are so last century. Gigli views Ricki as a lesbian who can be turned straight by his relentless machismo, while Ricki’s version of flirting with Gigli consists of undercutting it (usually by calling him “gay,” or asking if he’s gay). Unlike another Affleck vehicle, Chasing Amy, this film presents the male fantasy of scaring a lesbian straight via their masculinity in such outrageously dumb fashion that it’s offensive. And, when Gigli and Ricki eventually get down and dirty, Lopez kicks off the proceedings by spreading her legs, and unleashing this head-scratcher of an oral sex invite: “It’s turkey time … Gobble gobble.”
But the film’s attitude toward sex is nothing compared to its treatment of the mentally disabled.
Writer-director Brest worked at Bronx State Hospital during college where he observed the behaviors of various patients. This, he claims, served as the inspiration for the character of Brian. But, as played by Bartha, Brian is a strange combo of Tourette’s, Down syndrome, and autism. His teeth are exposed like a chipmunk’s, his right hand is perpetually clenched, and his voice crescendos ad nauseum. Often, he shrieks like a hyena.
Brian is a horny kid obsessed with the television series Baywatch—and the female form, in general. “I have to go to Baywatch!” he shrieks constantly, before making hoo-hoo and hee-hee-ing sounds after every remark. “I think that’s where the sex is.” He later calls coming a “pee sneeze,” and says “god bless you” to his crotch when he comes in his pants in Gigli’s car.
And, when Brian has trouble sleeping, he requests that Larry read him a bedtime story. Since Larry is a misogynistic philistine with no books in his apartment, he reads him the labels of various items—Tabasco sauce, Charmin toilet paper. This is supposed to be touching, by the way.
Bartha’s performance is so hysterical it makes Pacino’s woo-ah turn in Scent of a Woman seem quaint by comparison. And it’s outrageously offensive in just about every respect.
By the time Pacino comes in as the mobster, going on a rant about how stupid the idea was to kidnap the prosecutor’s brother and hold him for ransom in order to have his charges dropped—thus undermining the film’s entire plot—the viewer is beside him or herself.
“I am very concerned about the way things have turned out here!” Pacino screams.