GIGLI (Martin Brest, 2003)

Gigli is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but one thing I feel it is that hardly anybody else does is that I find it to be a great film. Hell, I’m probably one of the few that would dare to stick it on a list of the ten best films of 2003. I am not a bit confused as to why the film has received notorious acclaim as being “one of the worst films ever” because it’s all too obvious why it’s getting that reception. Screening critics who were sick of the “Bennifer” tabloids shamelessly loathed it with a passion, early buzz being it was horrible by those who haven’t seen the movie in the first place and this all slowly built up to scorn upon the picture’s wide release – thus causing it to flop miserably. It’s a confusing thing to grasp, especially when noted that, even if Gigli is not your thing or even if you don’t find it a great or even good movie, it is almost certainly illogical to call the film unintelligent or unoriginal. And for a mainstream Hollywood film, it is certainly something that is wholly different than any other film possibly ever put in wide release by an American studio, especially this decade.

If anybody remembers, director Martin Brest is known for using sarcastic plot elements and human caricatures for his characters. He used both elements in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop, as well as in 1988’s Midnight Run and 1992’s insipid Oscar-nominated Scent of a Woman remake, all three being films that got fairly positive praise. I myself may not have been particularly impressed with the latter film, but I sure can say that Brest’s tongue-in-cheek presentations of the themes he likes to toy around with are throughly meant to be taken at a level of satire. Gigli is no exception to this, and Brest suitably incorporated his style into this film; so much that the film’s humor and wit can almost seem transparent when not keeping a lookout for the character’s subtle actions or a keen ear toward the flick’s clever dialogue. This is a refreshing opposition to many of today’s films where the themes are often easy to see from the start and heavily-handled the rest of the way through. For example, Ben Affleck’s performance gets hate for being an over-cooked gangster stereotype (even though critics seem oblivious to the fact that the first fifteen minutes tells them that the character, as well as Lopez’s are not actually gangsters), just as Jennifer Lopez’s gets flack for being an overdone conventional lesbian. If you open up and view Brest’s screenplay as an observation of the inner-battles with masculinity and femininity, you can see how these conventions are functioning the film as a enjoyably talkative parabolic study in American society’s sexual norms. To those expecting an actual narrative involving two Hollywood stars falling in love through romantic comedy clichés, Brest has got you in his grip with his wicked grin.

“What is this film about?” That is one question the average moviegoer will almost always ask themself by default when viewing a film. (This is why the more over-used plot-driven pictures end up at the top of the American box-office numbers every week.) They would no doubt be unprepared for Gigli ‘s lack of plot, high doses of dialogue, heavy level of over-the-top characters, high tide of sexual repression concentration and the film’s attentiveness to the complexities of gender roles. Would they want to spend two hours in a film where two inexperienced gangsters talk and talk about their sexual confusions while hiding out in an apartment? Would they want to see a film in which the studio advertised as a romantic comedy, only to discover that the two lead characters are in no way supposed to fall in love or even have a bit of romanticized chemistry? To quote JokerXgg’s negative review on “it was a romantic comedy? IT WAS A ROMANTIC COMEDY!!?!?” To assure you, JokerXgg, it was obviously not supposed to be, and it is the fault of the studio for trying to cash in on the “Bennifer” craze of 2003. (I find it funny when some of the film’s critics shoot the film down with a “negative” expressing how they were disgusted with the film being a Lopez and Affleck vanity project. Lopez actually joined when Halle Berry dropped out at the last minute.)

On Criticker, only 10 reviewers (myself included) gave positives to Gigli out of its 541 rankings. I’d also like to mention that only 5 of those remaining ratings were average grades while the rest are scathing negatives. Some of the reviews range from “a little better than everyone says it is, but still bad” (johnshaft) to “show this in film schools.. and teach them they shouldn’t make this kind of films” (cambelboy). And throughout most of these negative reviews, its all out of spite instead of critique. Reading them, I never learn why the reviewer hates the film, I just read each one as somebody trying to say the harshest comment they can: “This movie has less going for it than a deaf, dumb and blind quadrapalegic.” (baskil) And yet I fail to learn why it has less going for it than a deaf, dumb and blind quadrapalegic.

Of course, I’m not criticizing opinions here (nor Criticker users in general), so please do not take me the wrong way. I’m simply studying throughout all these negative reviews of the film for a reason as to why I am in the minority of loving the film while those who usually share the same taste in film with me seem to bash it completely. Yet, while searching for this proper answer, I never really got to feel why my fellow film buffs truly hate the film when it comes to their personal feelings. Instead, it becomes a brutal slander competition. Most of the reviews feel like the critic is giving an exploitive and vacantly mean-spirited “opinion” rather than genuinely being truthful and/or understandable and telling what they did and/or didn’t like about the film. One review just upsets me, not only because it’s written by a female user from the site that has excellent and appreciative taste in cinema, but because she actually breaks one of the biggest rules in a film buff’s world. Never judge a book by its cover, or a film by its reviews.

“Ok. I didn’t watch this movie nor that I had planed to, but there’s a reason why I ranked it. It’s SO bad that I’d rather lose every eyelash than watch Gigli.” – furrisima

How can this not make me feel that there could be a plausible case that the film is just getting unfairly influenced and biased hate? And Criticker isn’t the only place that this happens, it’s on most of all film-related sites. On IMDb, about a year ago, I came across a post on the site’s Film General board in which a poster aggressively claimed the film to be the worst he had ever seen, pointing out his reason that it “failed on so many levels”. Weeks later, I find a post made by the same user on the film’s message board. In the post he admitted that he used to hate the film before ever actually seeing it and how, now that he has seen the film out of plain curiousity, he actually really liked it. Maybe not as much as I did, but he enjoyed it.

The endless spite that Gigli gets has always fascinated me. Even upon the film’s release in 2003, I was among the few that actually liked it, and even today the hate seems to still be going strong. However, it is very comforting to see some critics have actually admitted to enjoying the film. Roger Ebert has said the film has become better the years since he first gave the film a **1/2 star review (in which he received reader mail stating he was “stupid” and “pathetic” for giving the film such a high grade, also adding that he had “lost his mind”). Notable internet critics also have given positive word to it (most notably a very well-written and intelligent review by critic Jeremy Heilman at; a site that is home to reviews of mostly indie, foreign, and art-house works).

Approaching the end of this write-up, I have to make point to a question that may or may not be going through your mind at the moment. Why is the film so good to you, and why do you feel you should have written a lengthy essay about it? My answer, as corny as it sounds, would be that I feel this film is very much one of the most mistreated good films I’ve ever seen. I am trying to figure out what makes it have so many detractors and why a very good amount of these naysayers are either not watching the film or overlooking what the film is actually trying to intelligently say. I can’t believe that this sexually rebellious Hollywood-funded(!) film could even be put-down completely when it bravely goes places that other films of its nature dare not to tread. The average film of this nature would have made Affleck and Lopez’s characters fall head-over-heels in love with one another and betray both the Lopez character’s homosexuality as well as Affleck’s repression of his own homosexuality. Come to think of it, this movie is completely relevant to being called Queer Cinema, if mainly because it actually never breaks the wall of the characters’ personalities. The sex scene, for example, between Lopez and Affleck is completely absent of the typical romantic comedy conventions of characters showing their passion for one another through intercourse. Instead, this film uses the sex scene as a way of showing that these characters are understanding one another, as well as themselves, more they did previously. Like I’ve stated before, this is far from being a romantic comedy and closer to being a quirky comedy with a lot on its mind that just raking in cash from the pockets of moviegoers.

Of course, Gigli is not without its flaws. The film definitely could have used a better score (at least in those epic loud scenes; the quiter melodies that play throughout the film are actually quite beautiful) and the Justin Bartha character is definitely at times annoying. But writing him off completely is unfair, since he still fits into the mold of director Brest’s sexuality theme – basically speaking in volumes on how socially retarded (no pun intended) some societies can be in refusing to emasculate and be open to the possible label-less and open nature of human sexuality. Brest never once cheats the viewer, and he stays true to the themes and motifs he examines, thus making these superior aspects of the film shine over the film’s lesser bits. From a techincal standpoint, the film is completely well-done. The cinematography of Robert Elswit (Paul Thomas Anderson’s director of photography muse) is nice a simple, yet very rich and textured in color. It’s not a vibrant film, but the simple story (which bravely takes place almost entirely in an apartment room) and Brest’s poignant dialogue is thoroughly enriched by the way Elswit never tries to substitute anything with style. For example, the scene in which Affleck and Lopez discuss their preferences between male and female genitalia while Lopez does yoga is a highlight for Brest’s ballsy and sweet (as well as playfully dirty) aesthetic and Elswit photographs it in a very beautiful and subtle way in which the hypnotic blues of an outside pool shade the moment with a very warm energy. Instead of drowning out Brest’s work, Elswit enriches it. That’s a sign of a very good director’s cinematographer.

Gigli is a film that, when one looks at it from a certain light, has some very bold European sensibilities (Jeremy Heilman also points this out in his review). So much, in fact, that I wouldn’t be surprised if the film would have been (if not only slightly more) positive in its critical reception had it been in the French language, as well as absent of the preconceived hate for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in that tabloid-crazy moment in time where the two performers were doomed to be hated by many because of the sad exploitation that was stacked on their shoulders. It’s quite a pitiful observation, but I can’t deny that I feel it’s an honest one.


~ by jerkwoddjh on October 3, 2009.

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