When Good Press Goes Bad

Not surprisingly, "Gigli" (search ) tanked at the box office.

In its opening weekend, the $54 million Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez gangster romance took in less than $4 million. Producers of the film who lost money are probably disappointed. 

It happens.

But judging from the torrent of venomous press this movie project has unleashed, one would think film critics and entertainment reporters were the ones who lost their shirts on this ill-fated project. Check out some of these quotes:

"Hopelessly misconceived exercise in celebrity self-worship, which opens to nationwide ridicule today.” — A.O. Scott, New York Times

"Nearly as unwatchable as it is unpronounceable.” — Manohla Dargis, Los Angeles Times

"Every generation gets the celebrities they deserve, but what have we done to deserve 'Gigli'?"     — Duane Dudeck, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Witless, coarse and vulgar." — Roger Friedman, Foxnews.com

And believe me, these are not the worst. So what did Jen and Ben do to deserve such bad press? Brace yourselves: They made a bad movie.

It happens. 

Imagine if the most popular couple in high school — the king and queen of the prom — tripped and fell flat on their faces while accepting their crowns. What would you do? Even though you voted for them, you'd probably laugh your butt off.

Essentially that's what's going on here. The press giveth, and the press taketh away.

Over the past year Ben Affleck (search) and Jennifer Lopez (search) have graced countless magazine covers, been featured in segments on every entertainment show and have been daily fodder for gossip columns. 

Their interview with "Access Hollywood"'s Pat O'Brien (search) that aired on a "Dateline NBC" special earned super ratings, putting the show in the Nielsen's top 10 for that week.

So the couple is over exposed, big deal. Next summer it'll be somebody else, and then somebody else, and then somebody else. Jen and Ben will move on, and continue to command the big bucks Hollywood has to offer.

It wasn't always so for Ben and Jen. 

It bears reminding that Ben Affleck was a struggling actor who had modest success with commercials and a PBS series in a career that started when he was 8 years old. After several unmemorable roles, ("School Ties," "Chasing Amy") he and childhood friend Matt Damon (search) wrote "Good Will Hunting" (search), and the rest, as they say, is history. 

But even that wasn't so simple. The actors' agent shopped the eventual Oscar-winning script around to several studios before finally finding a home at indie-friendly Miramax. (search)

Jennifer Lopez had it a little tougher. Growing up in the Bronx, one of New York City's tougher boroughs, little "Jenny from the block" used to take the subway into Manhattan for dance classes. After several years pounding the pavement, she got small parts in music videos and eventually landed a role as a "Fly Girl" on Fox's "In Living Color" (search), starring the Wayans family and Jim Carrey, among others.

Lopez spent several more years in Hollywood before hitting it big playing Selena (search), the Latin pop star who was murdered by the president of her fan club.

Lopez's exposure to the music industry from that role and her earlier videos probably fueled the desire to become a pop star herself, which she eventually did to huge success, if not critical acclaim. She did earn critical accolades for her work with actor George Clooney (search) in the noir film "Out Of Sight" (search), (which also featured two of my favorite actors, Dennis Farina and Michael Keaton).

The point is, while sitting on top of the world today, Affleck and Lopez were just two kids with dreams not too many years ago. Like most other hard-working Americans, they achieved success the old-fashioned way. They earned it.

So why so bitter after one colossal failure?

"We really don't get anything from movie stars except entertainment," says psychologist Dr. Georgia Witkin, a Fox News consultant. "Fans like them because they are beautiful and rich and we would love to trade places with them, but if they fail to entertain us, like in the case of 'Gigli,' than what use do we have for them?" she said.

Public relations consultant Ken Sunshine (search), a well-respected operator who reps Ben Affleck, says he can't prepare any of his clients for the inevitable onslaught of bad press.

"We have a sign in our office that says 'the press is always right,'" said Sunshine. "The media will do what they're going to do. Celebrities can't obsess about what's written or said because if they do they'll go crazy, and they'll have a very short career."

So what advice did Sunshine give to Ben in dealing with the torrent of bad publicity that surrounded 'Gigli'?

"I pride myself on my discretion," he said. "I would never share that frankly."

Spoken like somebody who's been here before, and another sign that Affleck and Lopez will be just fine.

Mike Straka is the project manager for FOX News' Internet operations and contributes as a features reporter and producer on FOX Magazine (Sundays 11 p.m. on FNC) and as a reporter and columnist for Foxnews.com. 

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