First Impressions Review: 'Gigli' (2003)

Updated on June 13, 2018

After I saw The Room, I decided to tackle this next. It's another movie I'd been meaning to see for a long time. Another case where I just had to find out if it was truly as bad as everyone says. Coincidentally, this too comes from the year 2003.

Even before I watched The Room in full, I knew quite a bit about it. I'd seen various clips of it on YouTube, and I was familiar with a few of its bizarre memes. By contrast, I didn't know a whole lot about Gigli. I already saw the famous Christopher Walken pie scene beforehand, but beyond that I was going in blind. (If you don't know about the pie scene, I won't spoil it for you, but you could probably find a clip of it online.)

I was kind of disappointed that scene came so early. Especially since, having seen the whole thing from beginning to end now, I can say with certainty that it's the best scene in the movie…

So What Happens in Gigli?

The film opens and we meet our protagonist, Larry Gigli, played by Ben Affleck. He yells and swears at a random passer-by, and he threatens to roast some poor guy in a dryer. Already we're off to a great start.

We then meet some other guy named Louis, and he assigns Larry the task of kidnapping another guy named Brian from a mental institution. Except Larry doesn't really kidnap Brian so much as he just talks to Brian and convinces Brian to come with him, but whatever. Anyway, they go to Larry's apartment, where Larry holds Brian hostage without making it look like he's holding Brian hostage. I only found most of this out from reading an online plot summary, by the way.

That's one of the first things struck me about Gigli. How confusing it is. While watching it initially, I had no idea why Larry was doing this, why some woman named Ricki (played by Jennifer Lopez) showed up at the apartment shortly after, or why the three of them bummed around said apartment for a while. I mean, maybe it's just me, but I honestly couldn't make sense of the characters or their motivations. Granted, the weird dialogue didn't help much, but I think the film's problems run a bit deeper than that.

After I finished watching, that's when I read the plot summary, and that's when I realized there's actually not a whole lot to it. Perhaps I was expecting too much? Even then, it's still a weird story.

It's always been my belief that there's few genuinely bad ideas in storytelling, and more often it's simply bad execution that ruins a story. Gigli, however, casts some doubt on that normally firm belief of mine. The film sets you up with what seems like a mobster/crime drama of some sort, but then it turns into this goofy romantic comedy, focusing largely on the dynamic between Larry and Ricki. And yet, the film still carries this vaguely mobster-esque vibe throughout. It's very strange.

There's an especially odd running gag about Brian's obsession with "the Baywatch," apparently the filming set for the TV show that he wants to visit. At least I think it's supposed to be a running gag. There is one point where it gets played seriously. Larry and Ricki and Brian are in the car, and Brian is upset that he still hasn't been to "the Baywatch" yet. He starts wistfully talking about how it's where the beautiful girls are and where you can have sex with them, and then this sad music plays. The Baywatch thing comes up again near the end of the film too, in an even more melodramatic moment. Like, I'm just baffled that such a ridiculous plot point was meant to be so touching.

I gotta mention this scene. After our lovable trio have been hanging out in Larry's apartment for too long, at the 40-minute mark they go to this restaurant. It's a relief to finally have them be somewhere else, leading to what is probably the second most entertaining scene in the movie (after the pie scene, of course).

Some punks start playing loud music in the restaurant. Larry gets mad and yells and swears at them to turn their music down. Are we actually supposed to like this guy? (He is entertaining though, I will give him that.) And yet, the punks are portrayed as being in the wrong for playing their music too loud. What's interesting is that Ricki takes Larry's side and she goes up to the punks to intimidate them, and it seems like we're supposed to take Larry's side as well. I mean, yeah, the punks are jerks, but Larry is hardly any better himself. And Ricki threatens the one punk with gouging out his eyes, so she doesn't exactly score herself a lot of sympathy points either.

Oh, and then Larry smashes the one guy's laptop. Geez. I get that Larry and Ricki are supposed to be anti-heroes, but even there, I'm not convinced the film is doing a good job at getting us to appreciate them.

After that, we get another weird, nonsensical scene where we meet Larry's mother. But hey, at least we're not in Larry's apartment any more. While watching, I was worried that most of the film was going to take place there.

…well, it turns out I was right to be worried, because afterwards we wind up right back at that same apartment, and we spend another good chunk of the film there. When Louis finally shows up again later on, I'd actually forgotten about him and was like, "Oh, right. That guy."

Where did it all go Wrong?

One of the biggest problems is that not much really happens. There's a complete lack of tension. For a film where the basic premise is a couple of mobsters holding a guy hostage to use as leverage against a federal prosecutor, you'd expect it to be a lot more exciting than it is. Much of the film is just Larry, Nicki, and Brian hanging out at Larry's apartment, or occasionally going somewhere else and hanging out there. Other odd characters show up here and there and also don't do much.

Heck, even the Amazon.com blurb doesn't really tell us anything. "When small time street thug Larry Gigli meets a tough and gorgeous enforcer named Ricki, the sparks fly in this outrageous battle of the sexes." Okay, sure.

Random Observations

I find it a strange decision to make Nicki a lesbian, when the movie is clearly focused on a heterosexual romance.

What's also strange to me is that this is an R-rated film. Granted, there is a lot of profanity and sexual dialogue, but there aren't many moments where it's all that violent. And the parts that are violent could have easily been removed or toned down. Even a lot of the sexuality could probably have been softened up with no harm done. In fact, that probably would've made the film better. Unlike, say, Deadpool or Logan, this really didn't feel like it needed to be R-rated.

At one point when they're in bed together, Ricki refers to Larry as "a charming, lovable guy like yourself." Oh please.

Near the end, this choir music starts playing. It's incredibly out of place, and it's never heard at any other point in the film.

Gigli vs. The Room

In some ways, Gigli is the more competently-made of the two films. At the same time, however, that kind of makes it the worse of the two. The Room has a lot more outwardly bad things about it, but that's also why it's so entertaining. Gigli has its own standout oddities, but they're fewer and further between. The rest of the film, meanwhile, is just dull. I stated in my review of The Room that, despite everything else, it's not a boring movie. I can't say the same for Gigli. In fact, it's kind of hard to sit through.

Another thing about Gigli is that it doesn't have the same memorably quirky cast that The Room does. The supporting characters in Gigli are still bizarre in their own right, but most of them only show up for one scene, leave, and never appear again. The Room had a lot of different character dynamics, whereas Gigli is largely just a tedious Ben & J-Lo romance. Ultimately, I'd say The Room is the "better" of the two.

Overall?

Yeah, not a very good movie. There are some mildly funny parts, and other things that are entertainingly strange, but they're not enough to salvage the rest of it. Many of the scenes go on too long. The scene with Al Capone in particular lasts over nine minutes, and much of it is just him monologuing. And the movie takes forever to end! Even The Room had better pacing than this.

So, are there any positives? Well, the character of Larry Gigli almost works. He was a bit too jerkish for my liking, but he actually has decent character development and a character arc, and he's entertaining enough that he helps elevate an otherwise dull movie. He could've been pretty compelling with some rewrites to the script. Ben Affleck does a good job playing him, at least.

Any other positives? The film's score is quite good. It's pleasantly upbeat and jazzy. And then there's Christopher Walken, who's always great. Beyond all that, however, I'm struggling to think of anything worthwhile.

All in all, I'd only recommend Gigli if you enjoy the bile fascination of watching these kinds of movies (which I sort of do, admittedly). Otherwise, stay away. Stay far away.

© 2018 Ian Rideout

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