It’s easier than ever to mock Hollywood denizens these days.
Stars weaponize awards show speeches to demand we stop drinking milk. Others insist we radically change our lives to fight Climate Change while criss-crossing the globe on private jets.
The worst of the worst, think Bette Midler and Rob Reiner, sound like conspiracy bloggers with their unhinged critiques of President Donald Trump.
Believe it or not, celebrities can still do a measure of good for the culture, above and beyond their artistic product. Many stars, like “Guardians of the Galaxy” standout Chris Pratt, visit children’s hospitals to the brighten the patients’ spirits. Others write massive checks in times of crisis, like when stars rallied in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence two years ago.
Last year, Tiger Woods and Justin Timberlake combined for a $6 million donation to those impacted by Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas.
Ben Affleck hasn’t written any large checks of late. What he’s doing is smaller, more personal. Yet the impact of his current efforts could be considerable.
Affleck’s star has risen, fallen and rebounded in ways that would make a marvelous movie. His Oscar win for penning “Good Will Hunting” kicked off an A-list acting career. Years later, after several high-profile flops, Affleck licked his wounds and tried directing for a change.
The results? Celebrated features like “The Town,” “Gone Baby Gone” and the Oscar-winning “Argo.”
By the time he donned Batman’s signature cowl he couldn’t fly much higher in Hollywood. Then the odd stories started swirling about his life on and off screen. Would he continue as Batman, for example?
More importantly, was he drinking too much off camera? Now we know the hard, uncomfortable answers.
The Batman casting doesn’t matter, but it’s how Affleck is facing up his mistakes, his demons, that makes his comeback story vital. An expansive feature in The New York Times sets the stage for Affleck’s confessions.
There’s plenty to digest in the feature, but this Affleck quote essentially says it all.
“People with compulsive behavior, and I am one, have this kind of basic discomfort all the time that they’re trying to make go away,” he said a couple of Sundays ago during a two-hour interview at a beachside spot in Los Angeles. “You’re trying to make yourself feel better with eating or drinking or sex or gambling or shopping or whatever. But that ends up making your life worse. Then you do more of it to make that discomfort go away. Then the real pain starts. It becomes a vicious cycle you can’t break. That’s at least what happened to me.”
Bet he’s not alone, even if we all haven’t dressed as the Dark Knight before.
His father drank. He endured three stints in rehab (to date). His own recent drinking relapse made headlines for all to see – including his ex-wife and children. A friend warned that if he played Batman again he’d “drink himself to death.” He swears his divorce is a shame he still cannot process.
Does this sound like a warm and fuzzy celebrity profile?
We have enough of those already, thank you. And while no one wishes those body blows on Affleck, his honesty is powerful and illuminating. You can practically see his PR handlers throwing up their hands.
Yes, this superstar with the chiseled chin and the famed career can hit rock bottom just like you, or me and your next-door neighbor. He’s facing it head on, with no PR filters, and he thinks he can emerge a better person.
Why does Affleck’s fall from grace matter? For starters, he’s being up front about his struggles. He’s showing that even the rich and famous can stumble and fall, but it’s how they get up again that often matters most.
This isn’t a “Stars: They’re Just Like Us” photo montage in US Weekly. It’s real, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
In a way, he’s sharing a blueprint for recovery.
This critic interviewed Affleck years ago during the promotional push for “Jersey Girl,” co-starring Jennifer Lopez. The two were an item at the time (remember “Bennifer?”) and my lasting memory of the press junket was how sweet, protective and deferential Affleck was to Lopez at the time.
Maybe that’s why I’m rooting for him a bit more than any other star. It helps that his comeback counts more than just your average celebrity story. Some of his fans might bounce back along with him, being as honest and raw as the superstar along the way.
Christian Toto is editor of HollywoodInToto.com, the Right Take on Entertainment