Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Man About Town (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on February 14, 2007

Directed and written by Mike Binder/starring Ben Affleck, Rebecca Romijn, Gina Gershon, Adam Goldberg, Bai Ling, John Cleese/Lionsgate Home Entertainment

A successful Hollywood talent agent finds his life unraveling after his private journal is stolen by a vengeful reporter.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: I don’t hate Ben Affleck. I know there are lots of people out there who just can’t stand the guy. I personally know several people who go out of their way to avoid anything he’s in. It’s just one of those chemical-reaction things; I feel the same way about Jerry O’Connell and his smug, obnoxious frat-boy smirk (he’s also in this movie, unfortunately). But Affleck’s never bothered me. He seems intelligent, witty and self-deprecating in interviews – he seems like one of those guys who knows how lucky he is to be where he is. You have to be a pretty good actor to fake that, right?

I honestly feel that it’s time to put an end to the Affleck jokes. Yes, the guy had a long string of flops including Jersey Girl, Surviving Christmas and the notorious Gigli (which I’ve never bothered to see; that’s probably why I don’t hate him). However, it’s always seemed to me that people held his personal life (and the ensuing media overexposure) against him to the point where they were rooting for him to fail. It didn’t help that he was making sucky movies at the time, sure. But as much as I despise bad movies, it tends to bug me when people take a little too much glee in kicking actors when they’re down (that includes certain film critics, who should be above such behavior). Now, after his stellar performance as George Reeves in Hollywoodland and his brief but funny turn as a doomed bail bondsman in Smokin’ Aces, it seems like the tide is finally turning.

Now comes Man About Town, a film that Affleck made in 2005 (during his “down period”) that has gone straight to DVD. I’m sure many observers will dismiss the movie automatically based on that (“uh-oh, Affleck’s going straight to video!”), but they really shouldn’t. Admittedly, Town isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a decent, enjoyable little piece of work that deserved better than the fate it received.

Affleck plays Jack Giamoro, a big-shot Hollywood talent agent who seems to be on top of the world. He’s got a great job, an unbelievably hot wife (Romijn) and…well, what more do you need in life, right? But something seems to be eating at him; there’s a kind of vague dissatisfaction going on there. For reasons even he can’t put his finger on, Jack has signed up for a journal-writing class (I had no idea such a thing even existed – how hard is it to write down your own feelings?) in a half-hearted attempt to figure out exactly what his problem might be.

Naturally, it turns out that Jack’s life isn’t all it seems to be. His super-hot wife is actually cheating on him with his biggest client, sitcom producer Phil Balow (Goldberg). As if that weren’t bad enough, Jack’s journal is stolen by a classmate, failed screenwriter turned spiteful reporter Barbie Ling (Bai Ling) who wants to write an expose on him that would possibly finish his career. Meanwhile, Jack is struggling to take care of his very ill father (Howard Hesseman), who is living with him after suffering a stroke, while dealing with bad childhood memories. And he’s trying desperately to land a hotshot TV drama producer (O’Connell) as a client. So, yeah, Jack’s life is pretty complicated at this point.

I know what you’re thinking – it’s Jerry Maguire meets The Player, right? Well…yes and no. There are enough similarities to both that I can’t say it’s completely original. But Affleck and writer-director Binder (The Upside of Anger) manage to pull it off well enough that you don’t think about it too much. Binder’s films tend to be acquired tastes – he makes grown-up movies about grown-up problems, which doesn’t really appeal to the kind of people who still obsess over whether or not Greedo shot first. His mixture of comedy and drama tends to be a little awkward, but it mostly works here. Sooner or later, he’s going to hit one out of the park (perhaps with his next film, Reign Over Me, which comes out next month), and while this isn’t quite The Big One, it’s still a solid effort.

When the movie works, it’s mainly due to Affleck’s performance. No, I’m not kidding. He does the kind of acting here that his detractors probably wouldn’t have believed he was capable of. He can do the Charming Handsome Guy act in his sleep, but he reveals hidden depths to a character that could have come off as merely shallow and superficial. Binder is smart enough to know there’s nothing people love more than to see a guy like that get humbled and knocked off his pedestal, and the more Jack’s life turns to shit, the more Affleck makes us care about him.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that there’s a solid supporting cast backing him up. It’s always great to see Cleese in anything (especially given that his film appearances have been few and far between lately), and he has some hysterical moments here as the obnoxious journal-writing professor. Romijn, Goldberg, Gershon, Ling, Kal Penn and Binder himself all have good moments here as well. Conversely, the subplot featuring O’Connell (who doesn’t seem bright enough to write a Post-It note) and his actress wife (Amber Valletta) who auditions for Jack as Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct seems extraneous and doesn’t really go anywhere particularly interesting. The ending, in which all of Jack’s various problems seem to converge on him at the same time, seems a bit frantic and screwball-comedy to follow the bittersweet humor that’s come before it. But enough of the movie works, and works really well, that I can’t write it off over minor flaws.

I know that there are people who find films about Hollywood “too inside” and wonder why audiences should feed into the town’s self-obsession. I’ve always maintained that a good movie can make you care about anything, so I’ve never really understood that point of view. But Town doesn’t really feel too inside – you don’t have to be incredibly showbiz-savvy to follow what’s going on. Although you might feel a bit left out if you don’t understand jokes like “you sound like a bit player on a Dick Wolf show”, it shouldn’t really keep anyone from enjoying the film as a whole. It’s not really a movie about Hollywood so much as it is a movie about people who just happen to work there.

If the idea of a comedy-drama set in Hollywood starring Affleck and directed by Binder completely turns you off, then you should probably stay far, far away from Man About Town. You’re probably not going to enjoy it. But if you’re open-minded enough to give it a shot, there’s plenty here to reward you. At the very least, it’s worth a rental, and when it comes to straight-to-DVD movies, that’s pretty much all they can ask for.

There aren’t a ton of extras on the disc, but there’s a decent amount for a film that never got a theatrical release. Several deleted scenes, a blooper reel and a couple of short behind-the-scenes interview pieces, “Visual Journaling” and “Talk to My Agent”. The interviews are pretty typical Electronic Press Kit stuff (and were obviously shot when the movie still had a shot of going theatrical), but given that some companies wouldn’t have bothered to put anything on there, it’s better than nothing.

*** 2/14/07

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