Man About Town Review


In his previous film, The Upside of Anger, writer-director Mike Binder had the benefit of Joan Allen's boiling cauldron of emotions as a woman betrayed by a disappearing husband. She ranted, she raved, she got drunk a lot, while Kevin Costner, as her equally sozzled neighbour, poured them both a drink and waited.

Ben Affleck faces a similar betrayal here, but his billy doesn't boil like hers and that keeps the movie in a more controlled space. It's meant to be like that, a comedy on a tight leash, but it's possibly a little too tempered. Jack Giamoro (Affleck), a successful Hollywood agent, has to keep his anger in check lest he lose everything, but that's exactly what we have come to see. Comedy is a blood sport. We don't go to see someone handling life well. We want them trounced and eviscerated, a puddle on the floor. They may fight back, but they shouldn't just keep it together.

Whether Affleck is capable of this kind of self-effacement is the question. He does comedies, but I'm not sure how comedic he is yet. He keeps making movies with Kevin Smith, set in New Jersey, but these are more like sketch television for college kids. Mike Binder works at a different level of adult comedy, a place that Affleck now wants to visit.

It's not that Affleck gives a bad performance - it's more that he can't take his emotions as far as someone like Joan Allen. Few actors can. To put it another way: Affleck gives a fine performance as someone who has no depth, but the movie is about how he finds some - although I would argue, not enough.

Jack Giamoro has everything he needs. He's a co-founder of one of the hottest agencies in Hollywood; he drives an expensive car home to his gorgeous wife, Nina (Rebecca Romijn), a former supermodel; they share their fabulous home in Malibu with his ageing father, Ben (Howard Hesseman), a former producer, now losing his faculties.

This tells us that even if Jack is an agent, he has a heart. What he lacks is a sense of identity, so he enrols, in secret, in a class in journal writing. The lecturer is John Cleese, at his most caustic. "Boring fluff," he declares, after they hand in their early jottings. "Your postman knows more about you than these journals ... Go in and dig for the truth, beneath the horse shit."

The truth, in Jack's case, comes looking for him, when Nina tells him she's been sleeping with his best client, Phil Balow (Adam Goldberg), creator of a hugely successful television show. Her shame and remorse leave her crying on their bedroom floor, in a scene that grabs you by the throat, but he just walks away in a cold fury. Forgiveness isn't his strong point.

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