In Contention


Oh, Jennifer

Posted by · 3:12 am · May 2nd, 2009

Jennifer Garner in Ghosts of Girlfriends PastI have a horrible confession to make: I am probably going to see “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” at some point this weekend. As if that wasn’t mortifying enough to admit in public, I’ll go further: I am doing so voluntarily.

This time, no friend or manipulative relative is dragging me into the theatre as a helpless victim of counter-programming. On the contrary, I’m desperately seeking an ally to spare me the humiliation of sidling up to the ticket booth and mumbling “One for ‘Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,’ please.”

I have no takers yet, and I understand why -– the film looks fucking dreadful, after all. The trailer cheerfully kills a little portion of my soul every time I see it. And every time a London bus emblazoned with the film’s hideous poster art and godawful title passes my living room window (which is to say about every quarter-hour), I have to resist the urge to hurl a rock at Matthew McConaughey’s bronzed, charisma-vacuumed mug. So why am I punishing myself in this manner?

Two words: Jennifer. Garner.

We all have a list of actors who we really know we shouldn’t love, who do terribly little to earn our devotion with an ever-more-dodgy resume — but who, like a really toxic ex, somehow manage to lure us back for their latest effort, however unpromising. And, nestled somewhere between latter-day Jude Law and another Jennifer with TV roots, Jennifer Garner is one of mine.

Garner has, for me, that indescribable movie-star ‘it’ quality that keeps her empathetic and interesting even when the film around her is going down in flames. I’ve never not liked Garner in a film. (OK, “Elektra” came close.) But I rarely like anything she appears in.

Glorious exceptions exist, of course. Garner’s star-making vehicle, “Alias,” remains my favourite network TV series of the decade, an endlessly absorbing fusion of intricate narrative trickery and gleefully dumb gosh-wow pyrotechnics that required megawatt star power (and a lot more tongue-in-cheek wit than one might have expected) from its leading lady to stay afloat.

And “Juno” remains the high-water mark of Garner’s career thus far, the point where she finally proved to the masses what I’d suspected all along – that she can be a dramatic actress of great intelligence and restraint. I maintain that Garner actually scooped best-in-show honours in that classy ensemble, finding more breathing-room and genuine feeling in Diablo Cody’s sometimes suffocating dialogue than her co-stars. An Oscar nomination was unfairly out of reach, but she surely came close.

Of course, it’s easier to impress in quality enterprises like these. Garner’s gifts really become apparent to me when she finds humour and nuance in drek as indifferently written and crafted as, say, “Catch and Release,” and singlehandedly manages to turn the umpteenth shameless “Big” clone into a bright, smart guilty pleasure that very nearly resembles a good film.

That, of course, would be “13 Going on 30,” her first attempt at carrying a feature, and as literal an application of the term “carry” in that context as you’re likely to find. Of course, it helps that she is supported by Mark Ruffalo there – but it’s still entirely The Jennifer Garner Show, a swirling mass of confidently executed broad gags (that joyous “Thriller” dance, of course) and smaller, beautifully rendered physical and gestural details that point to far more inner life than the character actually deserves. There hasn’t been a more interesting rom-com performance since, and in a lesser year than 2004, I’d argue for her retroactive inclusion on the Oscar ballot.

I should stop now, before someone takes my credibility card away and passes it through the shredder. But as I grimly get in line for “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” I’ll be hoping for flickers of that occasional film-saving luminescence from her. I’m not optimistic, but if it really does prove irredeemable … well, I’ll still like her. She’s on my list.

Am I alone here? Am I crazy? And which actors do you love against your better judgment?




→ 20 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

20 responses so far

  • 1 5-02-2009 at 3:37 am

    Alex said...

    Nicole Kidman certainly tests my judgment.
    Lindsay Lohan up to I Know What Killed My Career.

    I do have a thing for redheads though…

  • 2 5-02-2009 at 5:38 am

    murtada said...

    Yes you are crazy. She is lovely looking but a mediocre actress. She has made one semi-interesting movie (Juno). Why would you follow a career like that?

  • 3 5-02-2009 at 6:46 am

    John H. Foote said...

    I too am a Garner fan, though I confess it is more lust that admiration — my fascination with Jane Fonda began this way, watching her strip out of her spacegirl gear in “Barbarella” gave me the willies and I have never stopped loving her — even meeting her she was not seventy to me but still smokin’ hot — I confess to Anna Faris, who is a gutsy comic with the fearlessness to make a total ass of herself from film to film, and then prove she could act doing a spot on Cameron Diaz in ‘Lost in Translation” — she has what Lucille Ball and the Cowardly Lion sought: courage. Makes lousy movies, but when she is on screeen I cannot take me eyes off of her and it’s not a sex thing (at all)…

  • 4 5-02-2009 at 7:54 am

    Adam M. said...

    I am the BIGGEST Alias fan. EVER. Bigger than you, I guarantee it. So yes, I too feel an infallible loyalty toward Ms. Garner. (I refuse to acknowledge that she actually married that dreadful Affleck child…)

    There is no way that I could give an even-handed assessment of her acting abilities, but I do know the facts. She earned 4 Emmy noms, a Golden Globe win and 3 additional noms, and a SAG win plus an extra nomination for her work as Syndey Bristow on “Alias.” That she never won the Emmy is atrocious, but then again, there probably isn’t an awards body more governed by politics than ATAS. She lost twice to Alison Janney (which is potentially understandable), once to Edie Falco (which is definitely understandable, if not warranted), but that final snub really hurt. Not only was Garner pegged by many to at last take home a trophy, but Patricia Arquette?? Really?!? Have you SEEN her work in “Medium” ?? It’s laughable at best.

    As for the silver screen, all I know is that I’m not the only one who felt she brought a fresh new angle to “Juno” with her performance. So she at the very least has the potential to be something really special. In fact, no one tends to take issue with any of her work, even when the finished product is a mess. I recall many of the reviews for “Elektra” starting with something along the lines of “despite an admirable performance from Garner” or “while Garner is quite affecting in the leading role” etc. Apart from “Juno,” I personally have not found her film work to be inspiring, but again, I think it’s quite clear that the potential is there for Oscar-worthy stuff.

    PS – I hear she was quite good as Roxanne in “Cyrano” on Broadway too!

  • 5 5-02-2009 at 7:58 am

    Adam M. said...

    PPS – If anyone has doubts that this girl can act, take a peek at this scene from Alias’s 2nd season:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5H_7zSNwxo

    You just don’t see that kind of devotion on TV these days.

  • 6 5-02-2009 at 8:05 am

    M.Harris said...

    It’s nice to see that I’m not the only one with admiration for Jenifer Garner.For me I will admit that it is purely physical.Her face displays a certain pureness along with a girl-like charm(not because she stared in 30 Going on 13) that draws my eyes to the screen.Will I see her new movie…it’s possible.

  • 7 5-02-2009 at 9:03 am

    Janet said...

    Reading your article was like reading something I would have wrote if I had any writing skills. It’s good to know that I am not alone in my weird admiration for Ms. Garner, hopefully her movie with Ricky Gervais will prove to other people what we already know.

  • 8 5-02-2009 at 9:08 am

    katie said...

    Keanu Reeves. I’m sorry.

  • 9 5-02-2009 at 10:05 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I love Matthew McConaughey and get tired of the pile on and Jennifer Garner looks like a man.

    There. I said it.

  • 10 5-02-2009 at 10:49 am

    Thomas said...

    I was a big Alias fan. Jennifer has a timeless quality. She could have been making movies in the 1950s and 60s and there are not too many other current actors I can say that about. She also has an ageless quality too. Arguably she was too old for the role in Alias but I never once thought that while watching the show.

    I thought she was the best thing about Juno. Her movie work has been mediocre, not her the movies. I don’t know why Hollywood isn’t beating down her door. She is a much better actresses than Julia Roberts or recent Reese Witherspoon.

  • 11 5-02-2009 at 11:39 am

    Slayton said...

    OMG! Jennifer Garner is perfection in 13 Going on 30. She’s on my ballot (and I’m not a rom-com fan by any means). If Amy Adams could have gotten Oscar buzz for “Enchanted” by golly J-Garn deserved it for “13…”.

    Another frankly magnificent genre performance that never generated an ounce of buzz? Simon Pegg in “Hot Fuzz”. He was worthy of accolades in “Shaun of the Dead”, too. I don’t know of any other actor working today who can turn genre characters on their head with such subtle creativity, hit the mark every time with the comedic aspects of the script on hand and project real emotion in a superficial milieu.

    John H. Foote is right – Anna Faris is another excellent comedic actress who has given several great performances.

    In terms of genre perfs that are doomed to be ignored, I want to give a shout-out to Neal McDonough, who only stars in terrible films but always manages to be the most interesting thing about them.

    And Terry Crews was hilarious in the otherwise dire “White Chicks”.

  • 12 5-02-2009 at 1:36 pm

    Matthew said...

    I am a fan of Jennifer Garner, but only sort of. In “13 Going On 30” I felt that movie was good because of the supporting performances, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, and Andy Serkis turn in wonderful supporting performances. Also, I kept on being distracted by Garner’s manly broad shoulders. I do enjoy Garner, and she looks beautiful in that picture up there. I also think she can be a good actress, as is evidenced by “Juno” and “Alias”. However, I could never bring myself to consider “13 Going On 30” as an argument for her acting abilities. I do have a soft spot for that movie, but again, it’s because of Ruffalo and company. Garner was one of the only things that annoyed me in that movie. I was saddened by that.

    I love Owen Wilson. I think his work in the Anderson movies is phenomenal, and his work in his crappy movies (Drillbit Taylor, etc.) elevates it to a mediocre level. Also, it was him and that dog that made “Marley and Me” actually watchable.

    Oh and I would watch any movie with Zooey Deschanel. She was the best part of the thoroughly average Yes Man, but dear lord do I love her.

  • 13 5-02-2009 at 1:45 pm

    Speaking English said...

    No. I cannot relate to this article at all. There is not a single bad movie in existence I’d seriously watch just because an actor I loved starred in it. “The Love Guru” with Marlon Brando is still “The Love Guru” with Mike Myers.

  • 14 5-02-2009 at 2:17 pm

    R.J. said...

    You can add me to the love fest, I adore Jennifer Garner and I really believe that she is talented.

  • 15 5-02-2009 at 4:15 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Wow, more sympathisers than I expected. Clearly we should all seek therapy together or something.

    Kris: I actually really, really like McConaughey in a couple of films — “Lone Star” and “13 Conversations About One Thing” in particular. So I’m not wholly in on the pile-on. But for me, romantic comedy (which seems to be his bread and butter of late) really brings out the worst in him.

    I won’t even respond to the Garner dig ;)

  • 16 5-02-2009 at 4:54 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    ““The Love Guru” with Marlon Brando is still “The Love Guru” with Mike Myers.”

    That’s where you’re wrong, English. “The Love Guru” with Marlon Brando is “Candy.” A subtle difference.

  • 17 5-02-2009 at 7:22 pm

    Sean said...

    I, too, share your devotion. However, I still keep my love hidden away and wait until her bad films come out to rent (Elektra, Catch and Release). As for hre acting abilities, I feel like the people who are claiming she can’t act have not seen her work in Alias. The fact that J.J. Abrams could take an unknown actress, and trust her to carry a star quality role is just a testament to her abilities. He has tried to do follow a similar formula since (Evangeline Lilly in Lost and that blonde chick in Fringe), but has not been able to match it. Her work in 13 Going on 30 and Juno were great and could have very easily landed in cliched territory in less able hands.

    Again, I probably won’t see Ghosts until it comes out on DVD, but I get very excited when JG has a new release because the effervescent qualities she has in her interviews is very endearing.

  • 18 5-02-2009 at 7:23 pm

    Joaquin said...

    Amy Adams. I simply have to see every movie she comes out in, if I can.

  • 19 5-04-2009 at 2:52 am

    BurmaShave said...

    Adam M., I reckon Edie Falco owes Jennifer an Emmy.

  • 20 5-04-2009 at 7:05 am

    McGuff said...

    I, too, loved her in Juno. And, I had a lot more respect for her acting abilities once I learned the “I don’t mean to interrupt the jam session” line was improvised. I don’t know why, but improvisation from actors is probably what I most respect.