Over the weekend, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez got hitched in Vegas. It’s unclear how getting married will affect Affleck’s star persona as “a guy who is divorced.”
Throughout his career, as he’s gone from indie movies to stardom to being visibly embarrassed in terrible superhero flicks, Affleck has perfectly embodied different types of guys. In the early days, in the introspective Good Will Hunting and his collaborations with Kevin Smith, Affleck could reasonably rub shoulders with other indie film types, though his stardom soon eclipsed that circle. The major part of Affleck’s career would come after starring in Armageddon and then Pearl Harbor a few years later. Both Michael Bay-directed films were bona fide blockbusters, and Affleck went from “that cute guy from Mallrats” to an actual star. After he started dating fellow movie star Jennifer Lopez, Affleck started to feel more than a little overexposed, especially after he acted in two movies with her. Gigli sunk Affleck’s career as an actor for a short time; in 2004, their bad collaboration Jersey Girl came out after she’d broken up with him.
Since then, Affleck’s career has been more defined by loss than it has been success; he even started playing characters who are defined by their loss. Perhaps the most important late-period Affleck role is Gone Girl, in which he plays a man who is framed for murder by his disappeared wife, and whose defining characteristic as a person is that when he smiles, he looks like a total douchebag. His Batman in Justice League is implied to act like an ultraviolent murderer specifically because he lost a Robin. In Triple Frontier, he literally plays a divorced dad who is also the worst and least enthusiastic real estate agent in existence, who also goes on to lose his absolute shit at the first opportunity he has to carry out consequence-free violence. In the midst of all this, Affleck and his wife Jennifer Garner were divorced, making the most intriguing thing about him the seemingly blurred lines between his on-screen persona, his off-screen persona, and him as an actual person.
Nothing defined Affleck’s turn as a “divorced guy” more than his breakup with Ana de Armas. In a tabloid photo taken shortly after they broke up, someone in Affleck’s yard tosses away a lifesize cardboard cutout of Armas. Just that image evokes an entire world of loss, even without Affleck’s actual presence in it. The physicality of Affleck’s unhappiness is intoxicating, especially in other candid images of Affleck looking on in terror as a photographer shoots him struggling with a Dunkin’ Donuts order, visibly regretting various life choices while promoting Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and, especially, smoking cigarettes. (This last is now a perpetual reaction image to indicate feeling overwhelmed and beleaguered.)
Affleck’s star persona as a divorced guy is so complete that even getting married can’t truly erase my perception of Affleck as a guy who is divorced. The fact that Jennifer Lopez took his name (Jennifer Affleck!) does not defeat years of watching this guy with a smug smile trip over his own feet year after year. Although Affleck is a movie star, even in the work he’s directed he’s never really proven himself to be a great actor; he just comes off as too recognizably a divorced guy to disappear into a role. In The Last Duel, Affleck is hilarious, and surprisingly charming, but his turn as a French king feels a little bit like Divorced Boston Guy: Origins than a deliberate performance. Perhaps Affleck’s most enduring role will be the one he’s crafted in public: being a little too tired, a little too old, and never quite getting it right. It would be just his luck.