Before I start, let me say this in my most 500 Days of Summer voice: You should know up front that this is not a love story. Or at least, not entirely. I’ve had my share of celebrity crushes: In middle school I slept on a custom-made Johnny Depp pillowcase. In high school, I daydreamed about Chuck Bass’ dashing deviousness. Even now, I have to admit that I, as a 22 year old woman, would probably smooch Nick Jonas and his three front teeth if he happened to chat me up at a bar. But this Ben Affleck thing is something different. I don’t have a crush on him. In fact, I’ve yet to see any real evidence that he’s really that sexy. I’m just randomly and preternaturally concerned for him. Ben never got the career he deserved. If you pay close enough attention — which, believe me, I do — you can tell that he knows it. Every photo, red carpet close-up, and interview is clouded over with what feels like a heavy Instagram filter of depression and austerity. A decade ago, he was desperate for our respect or at least politely asking for our tolerance. But somewhere between Good Will Hunting and his upcoming Live By Night, it’s like he’s resigned himself to only the harshest of realities. Life is unfair, Hollywood is unkind, and Ben has responded by being openly and utterly unfeeling.
There are certainly legitimate reasons to feel bad for him. The man trudges through Tinseltown as a square-jawed specter, the guy an audience might not order, but will tolerate. Yet, he’s still so talented that you can’t look away: Gone Baby Gone was impressive. The Town was the clearance bin version of The Departed (he even included an embarrassingly obvious cranberry juice reference to make it absolutely clear), but it was bearable. And every guy I’ve ever gone out with lives and dies by Good Will Hunting. Speaking of: Ben is one half of a bromance that predates the word, albeit the lesser half. He’s Matt Damon’s best friend, sure, but sometimes he seems more like Matt Damon’s shadow. This makes me sad, because I think he has more to offer. I do suspect that everything I feel for him comes from personal anxiety. First, a fear that who you are to others, and who you are to yourself, can really be so disjointed, as he claimed in a 2009 Esquire profile. And second, this hyper-focus on being taken seriously. Pop culture doesn’t like our women hungry for success, or wounded in its absence. We bristle at Anna Kendrick and Anne Hathaway because they’re so obviously performative; we cut the vaginas out of strong women, and make memes out of the sad ones. So maybe I’m watching Ben because he's open with a sadness and dissatisfaction that women are rarely allowed to feel so publicly.
But I also don’t want to get too serious about all this, because my concern really is deeply goofy. I want Ben to be happy and exclusively radiate warmth, to make good movies and to always have a strong WiFi connection and go to bed at a reasonable hour. I hope one day he moves back to Boston, because that city seems like his paparazzi-free North Star. This love isn't unconditional, mostly because it's less of a love for Ben than a concern for him. I want Live By Night to be better than its trailer teases, but I’ll see it regardless. I want the next Batman movie to exceed the flaming garbage trash standard set by its predecessor, but (ideally) I'll never see either. My friends call it maternal: I’m looking after him and looking out for him, even joking about asking my Black grandmother to pray for him. I’ve latched on to the injustice of his career and I can’t let go.
My feelings for Ben came to a head when I when I saw his slurred defense of the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. Bill Simmons characterized Deflategate as “us against them,” New Englanders versus everyone sane enough to live somewhere without such brutal winters. Ben's red faced Patriots rant was what went viral, but in the same episode, he spoke quite movingly about himself. “After I had broken up with Jennifer Lopez, and then had like three or four movies that bombed, I was so uncool,” he said, as if he knows he should have Matt Damon’s popularity, or Brad Pitt’s dexterity, or Leonardo DiCaprio’s highbrow respect. “So that was where I found myself when I took up directing, which is for people who are taken seriously,” he mumbled. Listen: he’s a white man in Hollywood. Even when he’s smoking through the pain of existence, he’ll be fine. But just in case, I'll keep singing along to "Ultralight Beam" in his honor, with an open invitation for him to indulge in some non-alcoholic self-care.