Monday, June 17, 2024

Jennifer Lopez Lurks in Audience for Ben Affleck, Award Worthy Riveting “Air,” First Cast Q&A Since Actors Strike Ended


The first time the “Air” cast got together since the actors’ strike, Jennifer Lopez was in the audience.

JLo played it cool on Thursday afternoon while her husband, Ben Affleck, took to the stage for a Q&A with Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, Jason Bateman, and Marlon Wayans in attendance. Scott Mantz moderated the panel for the Critics Choice Association at the Four Seasons Hotel.

(Full disclosure: I was flown out for this and a celebration of Amazon Studios’ films this season. I never do this kind of thing, but “Air” was already one of my top five picks of pics this year. And I got meet “Saltburn” director Emerald Fennell.)

JLo didn’t ask any questions, and she may have unnerved Ben, who kept dropping his mic — not in the snark way but for real — during the session. “Air” is kind of a dark horse this Oscar season. It came out in the spring in theaters, made $50 million, went to Amazon Prime, and then got caught it in the no-promo strike. But it’s an Aplus film, with standout performances from Matt Damon (who was not there, but gives a sensational performance) and Davis, who steals every movie she’s in.

Marlon Wayans surprised me. I do think of him only as doing comedy, from “In Living Color” to “Scary Movie” and that kind of thing. He’s turned into a thoughtful actor, however. He plays the low key basketball coach and civil rights hero George Raveling (now 86 years old) who was an important adviser to a young Michael Jordan. When aske about the influence of Michael Jordan and his sneakers, Wayans told us he was routinely beaten up for his Air Jordans as a kid in New York. So making the movie was a big deal for him.

There’s much discussion of the main line of dialogue in “Air,” written by Alex Convery: “A shoe is just a shoe until someone steps into it.” That line is spoken by Damon’s Sonny Vaccaro in his pitch to Jordan’s parents (Davis and her real life husband Julius Tennon play the couple).

In the end, it was Deloris Jordan who made the fateful deal that married Nike to Michael Jordan. And we learned during the Q&A that it was Davis who improvised a version of the tag line in her key conversation as Deloris with Damon on screen. Davis says, “A shoe is just a shoe until my son steps into it.” In any season, Davis’s delivery of that line would and should earn her an Oscar nomination. (Damon, too, for his stop-the-movie speech.)

Our Q&A suddenly got turned up a notch when Davis, who does not love these panels, passionately spoke about Doloris Jordan, Nike, and race. Listening to her deliver an impromptu philosophical speech was like hearing a kind of modern Shakespearean monologue.

“The movie,” she said, “is about the power of dreams.” She spoke about the way she conveyed Deloris, who does a lot of listening to Nike executives who don’t take her power or influence seriously. But Damon’s Vaccaro gets it. Davis said, as a Black woman, “You’re always negotiating being seen.” She wins that negotiation hands down when she gets Nike to give her son a royalty on every sneaker sold.

“Air” is directed by Ben Affleck, who also stars in the film as Nike founder Phil Knight. Even though Affleck’s “Argo” won Best Director a few years ago, I’m not if he’s taken seriously as a director. This may be because he’s also a Star and a regular presence in the tabloids. But listening to him discuss the making of “Air” should impart to all Oscar voters that the director of two other top notch films as well — “Gone Baby Gone,” and “The Town” — knows what he’s doing, and he’s here to stay.

PS Hoping to get a video of Viola at the Q&A and will update here.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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