Appreciation has not been given: I’m not sure you’re allowed to make fun of someone without acknowledging when improvement unexpectedly creeps around the corner. Whoa! Where’d you come from? Where’d you come from, quality actor Justin Timberlake? Where’d you come from, competent-to-good director Ben Affleck?
I’m uncomfortable with these changes because people are always a little uncomfortable with changes that unsettle the established stereotypes of things. We as a culture were not exactly demanding Justin Timberlake not do N*SYNC or Affleck not do Gigli, and yet they have changed their careers into…something entirely more respectable, I suppose.
I feel much more confident in pronouncing Timberlake’s turn in The Social Network good: it might seem at first that Timberlake is merely playing himself in playing Sean Parker—a high-times, good-time, slightly Faustian figure who tempts Mark Zuckerberg into…what, exactly? Fulfilling his exact dreams of creation, only to find they don’t quite give him anything he wanted. The interesting aspect about Timberlake’s performance is the slightly nervous way he makes Parker a coward, which is decidedly not part of the Timberlake image (who can say whether it’s a part of the Timberlake reality), and so moments with a certain amount of frisson there, of a somewhat sympathetic and fun character (Parker is the kind of guy you’d like as a friend but not necessarily want to be) succumbing to his own weakness. It’s pretty well-written, and it was well-done by Timberlake to make the audience experience it as well-written.
Affleck’s The Town is the only film I’ve seen of his as director (I’ve heard Gone Baby Gone is quite good), and it’s a fairly well-executed, well-done thriller with some food for thought. (The best aspect of the film from the direction/writing standpoint is that it absolutely doesn’t exaggerate its “food for thought” aspects: there have been a lot of solid thrillers ruined because they wanted to be TOPICAL and MEANINGFUL, and The Town doesn’t fall into that trap. What I’m referring to, in the “food for thought” category is about stereotypes: the film is basically about ethnic Irish dudes in Charlestown who are enmeshed in, for lack of a better term, a culture of poverty. So often the phrase “culture of poverty” is applied mostly to black people, and so often it is used without much sensitivity or nuance and hence doesn’t recognize black people as, well, people. The Town doesn’t disenfranchise its subjects as people, but it does show them as basically enmeshed in culture of poverty-type of mores and so is valuable in that sense. I thought this was pretty well-executed, though certain other aspects—say, the ending—were somewhat poorly executed.) Maybe the tip-off for Affleck’s quality of his films was its Boston subject; Affleck might be the best part of Good Will Hunting, and I believe Gone Baby Gone was set in Boston, so maybe the lesson here is that Affleck should stick to Boston for the remainder of his career.
If changing your career can be a beneficial, if shocking salve to your public perception, consider the perils of failure:
Nelly, Nelly, what have you done? It’s pretty much a bad bad song, as opposed to his good bad songs (Country Grammar! Ride With Me!), and I can’t read it in any other way than Nelly wants to change his image. Which is pretty much ridiculous: Nelly is best where he is, as a sub-Ludacris purveyor of absurd swagger. Or, at least, I think that’s where he’s best.