“What if the Bennifer marriage repairs the timeline and resets us to 2004?”
That was the tweet — the best one — that set my timeline on fire this week, shortly after the needle-scratch moment that was the wedding of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez (a Vegas elopement, no less!).
With 72.6K “likes” at last count, it did not take long for the “Russian Doll”-like time-loop hypothesis to be repeated and repopulated all over the social media ecosystem, some suggesting we go back to 2002 (taking into account pandemic years, the ghost) and someone else piping up to ask: “Is Ben Affleck willing to sacrifice the Red Sox 2004 World Series title and the breaking of the Curse in order to bring harmony back to the universe?”
For me, that wild response to the tweet mirrors what I find fascinating about the Ben-and-Jen second-chance arc: a fascination about the fascination. As is so often the case with celebrity stories, if you listen carefully people are talking about themselves (their values, their irks, their regrets) as much as they are the celebrities themselves. They are Rorschach tests, blank pages for psychological projection — not to mention, a handy hourglass to mark our own years and decades.
In the case of Jen and Ben, whose last engagement blew up into smithereens some 18 years ago — and who both have had no shortage of personal drama since — this is all heightened by the fact that they represented a last gasp of old-school celebrity coupledom, just before the coming ubiquity of social media.
Hearkening back to a time when there was much more cohesion about who was in and who was out in celebrity narratives — when there was a common conversational glue and significantly less pop culture fragmentation — their wedding now in 2022 brought to be not just a feast for the love-is-love crowd, but winked at a time when big magazines broke big celebrity news like, say, a wedding. (Unlike today, when J.Lo blabbed the details of her wedding herself via her newsletter because, well, celebrities control the levers of information and dissemination in a way they did not, could not, during the initial Bennifer storms.)
What grabbed people, too, about this week’s Sin City I do: just how unexpected it was in terms of its glamorously unglamorous execution. In a year when there are more weddings expected than at any time since 1984 thanks to pandemic lags, with 2.5 million weddings forecast in the US alone, Lopez seemed to zig where so many others zagged. Save the date? Note.
Not only was the wedding notable for its studied insouciance (complete with an old dress from a movie set), it was, I believe, effective in drilling into Old Hollywood lore. Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra are among the star couples once married at Vegas’s Little White Wedding Chapel (which has, of course, a drive-thru). So, too, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, who are in the zeitgeist again right now: the focus of a new HBO Max docuseries. They are the enduring gold standard of celebrity coupledom.
I have been fascinated hearing about the series, titled “The Last Movie Stars,” directed by Ethan Hawke (he was asked to by Paul’s and Joanne’s daughter, Clea). Like Affleck and Lopez, their relationship was once projected onto, dissected and glorified, and it also fell into the true-love-never-did-run-smooth category, à la “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” For one, it started as an affair (Newman was previously married), a fact sometimes obscured by the incredible 50 years the Newman/Woodward marriage eventually lasted (add to that their twin Oscars, their trail-blazing philanthropy, etc.). A unicorn marriage, especially in Holly-weird.
Like Affleck, Newman also had a drinking problem. And it caused challenges, no doubt. “Joanne gave him his confidence” is what Hawke told CBS “Sunday Morning” recently. “Joanne taught him to believe in himself. Joanne taught him to love himself. When somebody asks her why their marriage worked, she said, ‘There’s my ego and there’s his ego, and there’s our ego. And when we’re both in service of our ego we can do anything.'”
Clea, meanwhile, sums it up this way: “Their relationship never stopped growing. Their art never stopped growing. They never stopped pushing themselves, finding new things that were interesting to them.”
As it happens, the news about Ben and Jen landed just as I had started digging into a new, tempestuous biography called “Truly, Madly: Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, and the Romance of the Century.” Billed as a study of the “first truly global celebrities” — a fame fueled by the growth of tabloids and television in the middle of the last century — it is not only an exploration of the lives of the “Gone with the Wind” icon and her thespian other half, but about love itself. The highest highs and the lowest lows.
A quiet simmer of a book, “Truly, Madly” gets to our never-ending fascination with the mysterious alchemy that is two prominent people falling for each other. We have always been fascinated because, hey, in part, they provide a three-way mirror and fall into powerful meant-to-be tropes.
“A Love Worth Fighting For.” That’s what one big fan magazine trumpeted back in 1939, when news started to seep out about the Vivien/Laurence dalliance. Plus ça change… right? Watching people break up to make up: a voyeurism as old as celebrities have been around.
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