Peter York On Ads: It's the pits for Ben Affleck and slumming stars
Sunday 12 March 2006
It's marvellous being Big in Japan. Or Brazil. Or anywhere populous and far away where they go on loving you and buying your music/watching your films/reading your books long after the great world - the NY-LON-LA one - has forgotten you. A number of rather marginal and completely superannuated musicians remain surprisingly rich for just this reason; they love them out there. That means they can potter here, collect Stratocasters or punk ephemera at Christie's, unembarrassed by all the stuff they've done at the ends of the earth. No one sees the "character merchandising", the guest appearances at businessmen's conventions, or the ads.
The ads are really nice work if you can get it. Sometimes we are another Japan for Americans - a nice place to make commercials. Remember Burt Reynolds for Dolland & Aitchison, mobbing himself up as a vain old thing? Or Kim Cattrall (Samantha from Sex and the City) doing terrible Tetley tea ads? Or even George Clooney for Martini last Christmas? Our attractiveness increased for Americans when we became the creative centre for Europe - with British commercials being adapted and aired in pan-European campaigns. That way you could make proper money from a few days' filming, away from the backyard, with nobody speculating on your current movie bankability or alimony situation.
And it was lovely to get the attention again, the respect for being the real American article. The whole glorious ancient ritual of fan worship. Especially obsessional foreign high-brow fans who know your work better than you do, who've thought it through in a Tokyo cultural studies sort of way and tell you what you meant by things - a weight of subtlety and sub-textiness you never knew you had. But flattering and rewarding as it is, your agent usually insists it doesn't play at home. At home - in Britain or the US - you're either a player or a recluse but you're not to be seen milking it or fighting it out with the C-list.
Latterly, it's got even better: appearing in the right commercial could just mean your best role ever. Something you're not so shy about after all because you can show a new, cleverer side. You can get into thoughtful self-parody if you're property directed. Do something prize-winning, stake out your next career move. Good ads have gone up in the world.
Lynx is an improbable product for a joke market - anxious early-adolescent boys - but it's sustained by brilliant British advertising. Humour has allowed Lynx to target the Kevin and Perry set, and sensitive cultural judgements have kept it credible and watchable.
But now it's gone for something rather different, a Hollywood star vehicle that's weighted down with all the familiar expectations and limitations. What did Ben Affleck's agent demand, and what did he conclusively, legally and globally forbid?
Affleck's problem is that he hasn't quite made it as an A-list actor (he was OK in Shakespeare in Love) and he doesn't seem all that likeable or convincing as a personality. He's cast as a joke babe-magnet here because he's big and buff and wears a tight sweater well.
The running joke is that he's clicking up the attention he gets from foxes everywhere on his daily rounds (is it Rodeo Drive or Bluewater?) on one of those little traffic-counting things. Lovely girls at the coffee shop or the dry cleaners hold his eye while he clicks away. The conceit is his raging self-regard; the problem is you're inclined to believe it. He doesn't strike you as exactly self-doubting. In a typical Hollywood trope - and this will have been closely defined in the contract - he gets The Look from a gay black salesman and goes through a heavy-handed bit of mime - liberal, comfortable in his own skin - clicking it up.
The payoff is that the short, weedy lift boy can show him more clicks on his machine because he's spraying every scrawny working part with "Click", the latest Lynx line in aerosol air-freshener. So we end on Affleck mugging too hard as the lift doors close.
This could've been creamy fun - most Lynx advertising is - but the casting is off. But, of course, this judgement would have to be comprehensively revised if my Playing Away premise is all wrong and it's being screened in God's Own Country.
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