‘Man About Town’ a cliche-ridden, contrived mess
Jack started out working in the mailroom at a Hollywood agency, then stole its records to start his own. He took a supermodel trophy wife (who really loves him, poor thing), then neglected her for years. When she confesses to an affair and begs for forgiveness, he kicks her out of the house. He’s a self-absorbed backstabber who solves problems with violence and cares for his disabled father only because, I imagine, it would be a hassle to put him in a home.
Plenty of writers deliberately make their protagonists detestable. It can disturb the audience, even make them question their own assumptions about themselves.
Unfortunately, I’m supposed to like Jack. The movie this character’s in, “Man About Town” starring Ben Affleck, is stuffed with voice over in which the aggravating agent lets loose a maudlin flood of feelings about family troubles and loss of purpose, making it clear he is in fact meant to be a sympathetic character. But the man obviously cares about no one but himself, and by the end he’s back on top, though it’s unclear if he learned anything.
It’s tempting to read the film as one huge joke, with tongue poking through cheek and wrapped clear around back of head, but the script is so universally awful and the direction so full of unlikely contrivances that this interpretation becomes hard to believe fairly quickly.
Affleck’s disembodied voice spews out a slew of stomach-churning cliches during the film. Jack complains he can’t “fight the fight” or “go the distance,” then later says he “wasn’t good with the word no.” At one point he raves that “the little moments took light, and the darkness lost ground.” And, of course, his marriage is “the deal of a lifetime and I couldn’t close it.” I practically expected him to say “let’s do lunch” (though after this film my lunch almost needed to be redone). Rounding it out are a cast of Hollywood archetypes (the long-suffering assistant, the cartoonish lesbian, the old Jew) and some inside-baseball jokes.
Now, I grew up in Hollywood and know quite a few extremely nice agents. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that this script got by the gatekeepers because it made them feel as if they aren’t huge jerks. I have some bad news for them: it didn’t work.
By Ben Applegate [firstname.lastname@example.org]