What Ben Affleck's Comeback Can Teach Hollywood About Hygiene and Hits
Ben Affleck's box-office champ, The Town, is about the section of Boston where nobody shaves, which should be no surprise. When movie stars age or fade, they often seek to restablish their legitimacy by directing themselves in scrappy, hygiene-challenged movies you can smell. Affleck scored an A, but does he ruin the curve for others?
Barbra Striesand, Yentl (1983)
This is no grungy indie, but its intent was the same. At 40, what else could Barbra do?
Career salvage score: B+ (She stayed a name above the title through the '90s, with only three more films.)
Russell Crowe, Texas (2002)
Released, if that's what happened to it, just after Crowe's consecutive Oscar nominations (including a win for Gladiator), this documentary about the Lone Star concerts of Crowe's band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts is unwashed barroom hell. Maybe Crowe was feeling the slide -- sure, 3:10 to Yuma lay in the future, but so did A Good Year, Tenderness, Body of Lies, etc. -- or maybe he just likes beer.
Career salvage score: F (How much help could it be?)
Nicolas Cage, Sonny (2002)
A sweaty New Orleans indie in which Cage directs James Franco as an Army kid returning home to a gone-to-seed brothel run by foghorn-mom Brenda Blethyn. Cliches swarm like flies, and though Cage manages a degree of casual realism, it's routinely dynamited by Blethyn, vomiting out her lumpy dialogue in a mutant drawl as if it was so much tequila-agitated-ulcer blood. Cage shows up as a gay, lemon-suited pimp with a pink-dyed poodle.
Smell: Homeless-man body odor.
Career salvage score: C (But Cage didn't really need it, and it didn't matter.)
A mush-minded rise-up-from-the-ghetto film about Antwone Fisher scripted by Antwone Fisher (while he was a gate guard at Sony) titled Antwone Fisher. Somebody should've seen the runaway irony train coming. Washington plays the heroic shrink who talks a lifetime of trauma away. Pure schmaltz.
Smell: Sour milk.
Career salvage score: Who can say? Washington had won two Oscars, but this came right in the middle of John Q, Out of Time and Man on Fire. He survived, that's all.
Charlize Theron, Monster (2003)
All right, she only produced it, but it's tougher to find a wider differential between a star's ordinary persona and the carwreck of a character she scraps the barrel with. Playing feminist icon/hooker/serial avenger Aileen Wuornos, Theron chilled to the bone and got her Oscar, but it couldn't help -- soon she was co-starring in ensemble indies and playing girlfriends again.
Smell: Grilling ribeye.
Career salvage score: C-.
Ethan Hawke, The Hottest State (2006)
Like his first film, Chelsea Walls, which Hawke didn't put his face in, this indie is all about downtrodden creative types living in crap flats, daring to dream while consuming far too much tobacco and booze. Michelle Williams and Laura Linney show up as favors.
Smell: Stuffed ashtray plus week-old pizza box
Career salvage score: D (Who saw it?)
Drew Barrymore, Whip It (2009)
The Charlie's Angel franchise faded, and after a hefty serving of more girlfriend/sidekick roles, Barrymore revisits the forgotten world of roller derby. It's hard to get grungier in concept, but naturally the film is as sweet as Barrymore's cheek glow. Alas, as Raquel Welch's skating brawl Kansas City Bomber died in the '70s, this, too, was a bomb.
Smell: Fresh varnish.
Career salvage score: C (Back to the girlfriend roles, I guess.)