At The Movies: Gigli (2003)




2003 • 121 minutes • Columbia Pictures

Was Gigli the last movie America hated in unison?

I mean, let’s take a look at the nominees for this year’s Razzie Awards—we’ve got Fantastic Four, Fifty Shades of Grey, Jupiter Ascending, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2, and Pixels. They’re all worthy of the nomination (Jupiter Ascending ought to win, on the basis of being pure glory and also that Eddie Redmayne performance), but there’s little ongoing cultural fascination and professional fallout regarding those films. I mean, there is Until Death Do Us Blart, an annual podcast where Tim Batt, Guy Montgomery, and the McElroy brothers review Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 on Thanksgiving every year until they all die. There is that. But even The Cobbler, perhaps the most recent bad movie to stay in popular imagination longer than it was in theaters, didn’t derail the careers of either its star or its director or cause a larger cultural conversation about its ending. (HOW CAN YOU DO THAT TO YOUR MENTALLY ILL WIFE?!)

Was the world just a little smaller thirteen years ago, when even USA Today, a newspaper largely distributed by forcing it upon hotel patrons, published an article rounding up the most cutting reviews of the film? Or is Gigli just that bad?

I think it’s a little of column A and column B. Column A: Before The Room, the rise of social media, and the ever upwards progress of cultural nichification, bad movie aficionados seemed a little more oriented towards bigger fish, a taste I share to this day. Plus, Columbia Pictures didn’t throw Gigli into theaters in the dead of winter to sneak it by us, like Jupiter Ascending. No, Columbia Pictures tried to capitalize on the Bennifer phenomenon (kids, ask your parents) to the point of forcing director Martin Brest, who seemed to just want to make a middle-of-the-road mobster-themed dark comedy, to turn his film into a romantic comedy. Gigli wasn’t just supposed to be good; it was supposed to be huge. It wasn’t supposed to only make back just under ten percent of its budget.

Column B: Gigli is bad. Stunningly, terribly bad. In my bad movie comedy troupe, I’m the one whose tastes run more towards studio schlock. The more money thrown at it, the better. (This is how I ended up apologizing for how terribly paced Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is in the library basement one night in college.) Some of my sisters in mockery, however, have more adventurous tastes, and so I have watched bad movies both mind-numbingly stupid and esoterically bizarre in solidarity with them.

Gigli combines everything bad about all three kinds of films. Big stars whose charisma can’t save the film, scant script, awful pacing, lifeless, recycled music, and, of course, plenty of offensive things to say about queer women and the intellectually disabled.

The last is what really floored me about Gigli. I knew it was bad. I knew the backlash against it was so vicious that director Martin Brest, an obviously capable director, retired. But I had somehow never heard or, more likely, repressed the fact that Gigli stars Jennifer Lopez as a vocal lesbian who ends up bedding Ben Affleck’s bottom-tier mobster. It’s as insulting and boring as you think it is, with a heaping helping of “queers are crazy!” when her girlfriend shows up and attempts suicide (a plot point promptly dropped). I was begging the movie to let Lopez run off with Affleck’s character’s mother just to protect myself. And as for Justin Bartha’s character, the intellectually disabled younger brother of a defense attorney—the less said about that portrayal, the better.

The thing is, I don’t think anybody on Gigli set out to make a terrible film; studio intervention just curdled it. Nobody did back then—Syfy wasn’t trying to capitalize on bad movie lovers by cranking out Sharknados back then. (I personally don’t even count that as a bad movie, because I don’t think truly great bad movies can be intentionally made. They must simply… happen.) Even in a turd of this astonishing magnitude, there’s some very faint glimmers of promise. Very, very faint. Jennifer Lopez is simply too charismatic for this film to hold her down. I spent much of the film wondering why on earth we were following Ben Affleck around when she was just so much more interesting. (Also, this is very 2003-era Jennifer Lopez: I may have screamed “HOLY ABS!” when she first appeared onscreen.) And the film erratically but consistently brings up gender fluidity in their relationship—he cuddles up to her after they have sex, she questions his gender presentation, and the film ends with Lopez telling Affleck he’d look good in mascara.

It’s more than I expect from any mainstream Hollywood movie, let alone Gigli. Will wonders never cease?

I watched this film on Netlfix.

6 thoughts on “At The Movies: Gigli (2003)

  1. I haven’t seen this one but I’m with you in that the best bad movies can’t be forced, they have to just happen. Haven’t heard of The Cobbler though – I guess it shows that I mostly know the bad movies if they get covered in HDTGM or are panned enough that it trickles in through the news or twitter of people I follow.

  2. To my everlasting shame, I actually did watched this movie. In some ways, it was the signal of how much hubris Hollywood had in regards to star charisma. Because, from what I can remember, Bennifer was the IT couple. I’d venture to say that they were as close to a contemporary version of Liz Taylor/Richard Burton as two famous people could be.

    Making a romantic comedy was mistake no. 1, having the ‘obstacle’ of JLo’s character be a lesbian was mistake no. 2 (not only it was insulting to those of us who are queer women, it was plain old embarrassing), I won’t even get into the mentally challenged character because I don’t want to breakout in hives.

    This is one of those times I wish I could forget I ever watched this movie. 😡

    A way better example of Bennifer’s collective IT-ness is JLo’s uber-meta “Jenny from the Block”.

      • You’re welcome!

        Mind you, Ben and JLo’s relationship wasn’t as long as Liz and Richard’s, but they had nearly as much star wattage. Also, yeah, I like that video. Those were some wacky times. Oh, early 2000s!

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