The transition from actor to director, even with the occasional overlap, is never an easy one. Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, and Mel Gibson are names that readily come to mind when one is asked to list the success stories in this area, but one name that will surely end up uttered with equal regard before long is Ben Affleck. An admittedly completely unexpected standout, Affleck has proven so adept a filmmaker, in films of a very particular tone, one wonders if he may be drifting away from one of his once defining characteristics. As Argo hits theaters this weekend, and constitutes another win for the young director, we decided to appeal to Mr. Affleck directly regarding this growing concern.
Dear Mr. Affleck,
It has come to our attention that you are directing movies now. Forgive our jests of ignorance, we are well aware of your directorial outings by now. Argo just saw its release, and we must say you did an outstanding job telling the incredible story of the fake movie that helped American diplomats escape Iran during the late 70s/early 80s hostage crisis. You clearly understand character development and story structure. And of course, The Town and Gone Baby Gone were stellar crime thrillers. In fact, few actors who shift behind the camera can boast such a hat trick of phenomenal films right out of the gate.
One thing we really appreciated in Argo was its ample use of humor. You orchestrated hilarious exchanges between John Goodman and Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston was riotous as the frustrated CIA administrator. This liberal application of hilarity reminded us of your previous acting work. We couldn’t help but notice however, that your character, Tony Mendez, was fairly straight-laced and even a bit somber. We’re not counting this as a fault, mind you; these were performance choices that more than served your character. But overall, we got a hint of your acting past, and it left us more than a little nostalgic.
Remember those days, back in the 90s, when you collaborated on more than one occasion with director Kevin Smith? You anchored his Chasing Amy, providing a contemporary, vulgar, but brutally honest take on the age-old dilemma of unrequited love. Your dialogue exchanges with Banky, played with crass elegance by Jason Lee, were the backbone of the film and may actually provide context for your understanding of comedic timing as it related to directing the actors in Argo. Then of course there was Dogma. You and Damon, who had worked so well together penning the script for Good Will Hunting, were infernally funny as the two fallen angels willing to unmake existence to get back at your estranged maker. Hell, even as the slick jerk from Fashionable Male in Mallrats, you shined.
The thing we can’t help but notice about the films you’ve directed is that they aren’t comedies. Sure, Argo afforded the most comic relief of your films thus far, but Gone Baby Gone and The Town are anything but laugh riots. Of course it’s unfair to expect an artist to only work within one genre, and you’ve proven a skilled actor in many styles and tones. And obviously there’s nothing that needs fixing as far as your talents in the director’s chair. But that freedom to work within multiple genres works both ways here. We would just implore this of you, Ben, don’t lose your sense of humor.
There seems to be a prevailing notion in certain artistic circles that the only way to be taken seriously as a filmmaker is to focus on subjects as dour and severe as possible. It’s sort of a bizarre function of the Academy’s aversion to anything genre, including comedy. From what we’ve seen of your work thus far, we’re concerned you may be aware of this facile correlation between heavy drama and credibility.
Again, we would not presume to tell you what type of movies to make, nor what style of movie in which to appear. We just hope you haven’t forever turned away from comedy. We can understand your reticence toward the medium; movies like Surviving Christmas and Gigli probably have you reasonably gun-shy. But Ben, you were great in Extract and we know that comedic fire from your Kevin Smith days is still alight; Jersey Girl notwithstanding. If you’re actively avoiding comedy due to some lingering insecurity, understand that you have nothing to prove anymore. You have earned our respect as a filmmaker and need not be shackled to melodrama if it no longer holds your interest.
We’re ready to laugh with you again, Ben, and we can assure you no one will be laughing at you.
[Photo Credit: Miramax; Warner Bros Pictures]