Matt Damon is a great actor, but after 'The Adjustment Bureau' can he finally become a romantic star?

Bourne-SupremacyImage Credit: Universal/Everett CollectionQuick, what’s the oddest thing about Matt Damon’s career? The obvious answer is that he has played a lot of oddballs. The drug-addled Gulf War veteran of Courage Under Fire (a role for which he lost 40 pounds — and he wasn’t exactly chunky beforehand). The troubled megamind of Good Will Hunting. The moody parasite-sociopath of The Talented Mr. Ripley. The amnesiac ex-government fighting-and-killing machine of the Bourne films. The lost-inside-himself CIA cipher of The Good Shepherd. The whistleblower-without-a-twinge-of-idealism in The Informant! The melancholy psychic of Hereafter. No question about it: For an actor who has long resembled a clean, upstanding, gleaming-white-toothed Boy Scout, and who now looks like a slightly older Boy Scout, Matt Damon has spent a long time going out of his way to cast himself against type.

But that’s still not the oddest thing about his career. That would be the fact that, in nearly 15 years as a major movie star (I’m dating his leap to leading man status from the explosive success of Good Will Hunting), Matt Damon has never starred in a romantic comedy. Not once. He has never tried to lighten his image, or rebound after a box-office failure, or simply play the game by agreeing to do some fluffy-sexy chick flick in which he plays a carefree executive bachelor who flirts with, gets taken down a peg by, and falls for Julia/Sandra/Jennifer/Kate/ Renée/Drew/etc.

The desire to steer clear of those kinds of movies has been an almost ideological decision on Damon’s part, and for anyone who follows him, it’s a choice with a ready explanation: Chick flicks are Hollywood at its most cheesy, formulaic, corporate, and even embarrassing — for the most part, they’re happy-face gobs of product masquerading as movies — and Matt Damon is not a cheesy guy, and not a formulaic or corporate actor either. He doesn’t make movies he doesn’t believe in. That’s why he’s virtually the only actor of his generation who was able to become an action star and hold fast to his integrity while doing it. The Bourne films aren’t quite works of art, but they’re super-smart about exciting audiences. They’re thrill rides with a vision.

That said, Damon’s choice to steer clear of the whole RomCom Industrial Complex has had a profound impact on his screen image. Simply put: You don’t think of him in a romantic way. A number of the films I listed above have involved him in romantic subplots, yet when I call up the image of a Matt Damon movie, I almost always envision him alone, intense and hyper-aware and a bit cut off, grappling with whatever dilemma is buzzing around in his busy, obsessively centered head. Damon is peerless at this sort of thing (his single greatest role to date may be Tom Ripley, whom he embodied with such scary and bravura cunning). Yet there’s a real paradox to the fact that he has played so many disturbed solipsistic troubleshooters — and it’s not just that he still looks like a shining all-American jock. I’ve had the occasion to meet and talk with Damon a handful of times (going back to before he was a star), and I can testify that he’s one of the brightest, funniest, most down-to-earth and friendly people who has ever worked in this business. I believe — though I can’t prove — that his evolution as an artist, his whole attraction to playing furtive and gimlet-eyed anti-social types, emerges from his perception that if he acted as accessible and friendly on-screen as he is in real life, he might risk looking like a bland actor. To be taken seriously, and to do interesting work, he almost had to become the anti-Boy Scout.

And that makes The Adjustment Bureau, Damon’s ominous-on-the-outside, heartwarming-on-the-inside sci-fi romantic mindbender, a fascinating new wrinkle in his career. The picture, which is based on a 1954 short story by Philip K. Dick (not exactly the first author you think of adapting of when you’re trying to make a date movie), sat on the shelf for a while, which lowered industry and media expectations for it, which meant that its $20 million opening weekend registered as a surprise success. But I think that something more interesting was also going on. Since The Adjustment Bureau mashes together several genres at once (it’s dreamy-druggy metaphysical sci-fi…and a violently paranoid Philip K. Dick fantasy about scary men in dark suits who control the world…and a Sliding Doors love story about yearning and fate and connection and The Moment that can change everything), no one, before it came out, knew quite what to make of it. But the movie’s release, and initial (moderate) hit status, clarified things: It’s an offbeat romance for adults. Which means, bottom line, that it’s a movie people will turn out for to see Matt Damon and Emily Blunt fall in love.

Adjustment-BureauImage Credit: Andrew SchwartzThe two look very good doing so. Reviewing The Adjustment Bureau last week, I kept trying to think of a Damon/Blunt variation on the old quip (by Katharine Hepburn) that famously explained the chemistry of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: “She gives him sex, he gives her class.” I wasn’t able to think of anything quippy, so I dropped it, but here, prosaically, is what I would say now: In the charming, extended scene in which the two meet (in a hotel men’s room), Emily Blunt, a magnificent flirt, gives Damon a certain randy spontaneity, and he grounds her lofty British sauciness. I actually enjoyed Damon’s quiet romance with Cécile de France in Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, but The Adjustment Bureau marks the first time in a long time — maybe ever? — where Damon and his costar communicate the kind of crackling livewire attraction that makes an audience perk right up. We’re so unused to real sparks (as opposed to the damp sparklers set off by the average chick flick) that in this case those sparks light up the theater.

But what, if anything, does this do for Damon’s image? Does it shift it, deepen it, evolve it? Will it adjust his future as a movie star? That’s up to him. What I would say is that he now has a chance to make his romantic side more central, and that it might be the single freshest thing he could do to finally star in — yes — a romantic comedy. Don’t get me wrong, though. I don’t want to see him, you know, team up with director Garry Marshall to play a wisecracking financial hotshot in Stock Exchange, costarring Kate Hudson as the broker girlfriend and Rachel McAdams as the cable-TV money analyst (“Because this is one Wall Street player who’s putting his default…into a new kind of swap!”). No, I’d like to see Matt Damon use his taste for the adventurous to shepherd, and star in, a good romantic comedy, one that took off from the lightness he showed on 30 Rock. The kind that wouldn’t make us — or him — cringe. The kind that might even reinvent the form.

So would you like to see Damon take a break from playing misfits, loners, and spooked assassins? Can you envision him, fundamentally, as a romantic star? If so, who would you like to see him paired with? Or is he doing just fine as is?

Comments (167 total) Add your comment
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  • CH

    He didn’t get the girl, but he was a funny romantic foil for Liz Lemon in “30 Rock” this season, not to mention his amusing jabs at himself in Sarah Silverman’s “—-ing Matt Damon” song a few years ago. I think he’s capable of being funny, light, and charming; he just doesn’t choose to do it in a pandering way…

    • nick

      I’d say he was definitely playing the game in that awful Farrelly Bros comedy he was in. He had been in a few dramatic flops and was getting nervous and did a silly comedy.

      • mark

        Stuck on You? That movie was hilarious!

      • Lycra

        He was pretty darn sexy romancin’ Franke Potente in Bourne; not much but it was there, and it was implied in the last Bourne that Jason had a thing with Nicky Parsons. I’d rather watch Matt in a Bourne flick than a horrid rom-com.

      • sassy

        Stuck on You was a hoot!

      • Mike

        Matt stated in his interview on “Piers Morgan” that he wants the next part of his career to be directing. I don’t think he’ll be doing any rom-coms, unless they’re as good as Tom Hank’s “Sleepless and in Seattle” or “You’ve Got Mail.”

      • sean

        I am pretty sure entertainment weekly gave it an A lol

      • Bonnie

        Tom Hanks is an excellent comparison! I hope he does do something like that. At first I wasn’t so impressed, but he’s done an amazing job with a career that he could’ve sunk with the immediate success and attention from GWH. And he seems to have a normal relationship. How refreshing!

    • Stefanie

      Matt Damon isn’t sexy or handsome enough to be a romantic comedy lead.

      • Barry

        Unless I’m missing something, Stef, that is the point the author is trying to make. You don’t think of him that way because he hasn’t been playing that sort of character in movies.

      • RR

        So, Barry… playing that sort of character will make him…that sort of character? sexy or handsome? Cary Grant, Paul Newman… or, Charles Bronson.
        Damon would -have- to re-invent it…

      • MJ

        I think he would make a great romantic lead. He’s handsome and charismatic. Tom Hanks looks like an average guy and he made romantic comedies.

      • Joe Derringer

        Matt is not the brightest guy either. His political views are a reflection of a disfunctional upbringing and a weak education. Of cource, he is a party boy and may have been heavily influenced by his hollywood drug friends.

      • Sharon T.

        Oh my gosh girl, are we talking about the same Matt Damon! The man is handsome, sexy, strong with a marshmellow insides. What’s not romantic about that??

      • Me

        Hey, Joe, if you’re going to call someone out on being unintelligent and uneducated, you might want to spell dysfunctional correct

      • jj

        so glad you think that. that means matt damon has actually escaped main stream thinking. he rocks

      • BLM

        I find him incredibly sexy and handsome! Way better looking than most male rom-com stars (I’m looking at you, Matthew Maconahay and Hugh Grant).

      • M

        Speak for yourself! I think he’s very sexy!

    • Rush

      Not that I’m a fan of remakes, but how about Damon in an update of “His Girl Friday”? He certainly would fit the Cary Grant mold.

      • Aristotle

        I can’t believe you would use Cary Grant and Matt Damon in the same sentence. Are you off your meds?

      • thesaurusrs

        The point being made in this article is that this movie means that Matt CAN be mentioned in the same sentence with Cary Grant.

      • Juneau

        NO ONE can fit the Cary Grant mold! Certainly not Matt Damon.

    • jdluvva

      Quite frankly I could watch Matt read the Yellow Pages and be happy. The scene in Bourne is so intense and sexy I was just waiting for the rom com. I sent the husband and kids to see Rango so I would have Matt all to myself

  • katie

    i was going to mention his role on 30 rock as well.
    i really enjoy the fact that he doesn’t make romantic comedies.
    i haven’t seen the adjustment bureau yet, but i’m excited to see this new side to damon.
    he’s a very smart, versatile actor who captures an audience whether or not he falls in love.

    • BLM

      I adore Matt Damon and think he should be in more comedies based on his hilarious turn on 30 Rock. I wouldn’t really like to see him in a rom-com (mostly because I usually hate rom-coms), but just to see him be funny again in a comedy would be perfect!

      • SG

        BLM: I agree. I think Matt Damon was hilarious as Liz Lemon’s love interest. I’d like to see him do more comedy. Re: whether he’s ‘hot’ enough to do a Rom-Com, that’s subjective and is a matter of chemistry between the actors.

  • Rita

    I saw “Adjustment Bureau” over the weekend and I am huge Matt Damon fan. I have seen most of his movies. BUT it was sweet to watch him fall in love. The chemistry between the two leads is what actually makes the film and the fact that it wasn’t silly, or formulmatic that made it that much better..

    • Irishgirl

      I saw the movie Saturday night and was really impressed with the chemistry between Damon and Blunt. That first meeting, in the men’s room, is absolutely pivotal to the film, and was perfectly executed. That scene is so natural, real, and electric, and I don’t think the audience could have believed in the relationship between the two, if we didn’t have that scene.

    • Carla in Houston

      I saw the movie Saturday as well, and I really enjoyed it. Let’s face it, Matt Damon is a great actor with a wide range. Some actors are great in only certain types of roles, but Matt has proven he can play anything, and make it real. So I was not surprised at how good he is in this film. There are some fantastical things going on in this film, and in order to keep the audience grounded, we had to believe in (and care about) the relationship between the two leads. Matt is so good at drawing us in, that I was sold about halfway through the men’s room scene. He had me at hello.

      • Carla in Houston

        Also, that scene at the Statue of Liberty, where he tells Blunt’s character he can go through the door without her and she can go back to a life where she will have her dance dream, or she can go with him through the door – I teared up at that scene. That’s Damon’s gift – I sooo believed in that heartbreaking fear on his face that she might not go with him. This movie had me laughing at the witty talk between Damon and Blunt, and then crying just a little while later. That’s Matt.

    • llevinso

      I saw Adjustment Bureau yesterday and was surprised at how good it was. I went in thinking I wouldn’t actually like it too much (it was my mother’s pick for her birthday movie) but was very pleasantly surprised. Very good movie. Blunt and Damon’s chemistry was stellar.

    • MDS

      Am I seriously the only person who hated this movie? Matt Damon is one of my favorite actors and I think he did a fine job in this role, but the plot is a hokey, predictable mess with a copout of an ending.

      • Darrin

        I didn’t hate it at all, but I agree the ending was a bit of a copout, and it was generally confusing in that everything was forced to go along with THE PLAN, but then they say THE PLAN had been changed at some point in the past? Assuming “The Chairman” is some omniscient being, why the changes? Shouldn’t the changes have been the original plan?

      • thesaurusrs

        I saw it for the second time today and got past my initial doubts about the ending. (Spoiler)That magnificent final shot of them walking down the street radiating joy means all is forgiven.

  • Sarah

    I love Matt Damon and enjoyed seeing him in this movie, especially with his amazing chemistry with Emily Blunt. That being said, he is just too good for RomComs. I would prefer to see him to more comedies as he can be quite funny and doesn’t seem to take himself seriously when he does those roles.

  • JLC

    They’ve been floating the idea of a Thin Man remake forever. While I don’t approve of the idea itself, you could do worse than Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.

    • AA

      Whoa–that’s a great idea!!!

      • thesaurusrs

        I hate remakes, but gotta admit that Thin Man idea is fantastic (but something original would still be better). I would love to see Matt play drunk. But, he needs to do it with Emily! If they can find another good movie they will be legends together.

    • gertie

      That sure IS a good idea!

    • EricNYC

      Perfect!!! Nobody can replace William Powell and Myrna Loy, of course, but I can’t think of two better actors than Matt Damon and Emily Blunt to give it a try. I would love to see that!

      • Aristotle

        How about Ron Jeremy and Ke$ha?

  • Michael

    I saw “The Adjustment Bureau” and I didn’t really like it too much. I thought the sci-fi aspect was very hokey and not in a good sci-fi way; however, I did enjoy Matt Damon and Emily Blunt’s chemistry. If it was just a film about their relationship, it would have been electrifying!

  • Tom

    To be fair, romance is pretty central to Good Will Hunting’s storyline

    • tina

      And he was in love with Jude Law’s character in The Talented Mr. Ripley, it just wasn’t reciprocated.

  • Erin

    If Damon ever does do a rom-com (doubtful IMO) Emily Blunt should costar. Talk about chemistry.

  • GMS

    GREAT movie! Matt and Emily were fantastic. I loved him in this role. I love the romantic side, but would be afraid of his fate if he were to take on a fully loaded romantic comedy. Keep doing what you’re doing Matt. It works!

  • AA

    He can do whatever he wants… I’ll keep watching.

    • Mary

      Yep.

    • Kelly

      Exactly.

    • WhiteLady

      Me too

    • Aristotle

      Yes, AA – AA pretty much sums it up. when is your next meeting?

      • California Lady

        Oh, yeah ~ me, too!

  • Lee

    There’s something creepy about Matt Damon. (I think it’s his sinister smile.) I don’t think he’s cut out for romantic films–comedy or drama. He should stick to what he does best. His agent was right about that. Same goes for Robert DeNiro. He’s another actor who is creepy and was never cut out for romantic films. Damon should follow DeNiro’s lead.

    • Vuich

      Hua? Johnnie Depp, John Carrie are creepy. Matt’s a boyscout. It’ll be curious him shed that shell of “serious intent”. I haven’t seen this movie because the clips I heard sounded dumb but based on these reviews I’ll reconsider.

  • Vickie

    Thanks for a great article about a great actor. Your slant on the characters he’s played, and could play, was really good…and refreshing.

    • WhiteLady

      +1

      • Derp

        Plus one what?

      • Ali

        I Loved this movie! I just saw it last night and I went into it not really nwoking anything about it at all, all I knew it that my parents liked it a lot and told me to watch it. The ending could have done a million different ways and I thought that it was going to end that they would wipe their memory and anyone that knew about their relationship and change it that way. But they did an amazing job. Also i really like how they did shooting mostly on location in NYC

  • Andy

    what about Stuck On You

    • Kaci

      I was thinking the same thing. But I think it would just be billed as a “comedy” rather than “romantic comedy” since it was more about the relationship between the brothers.

  • sa

    he was in stuck on you which is a comedy for bank

  • whatevs

    I’m glad someone will stay away from that genre. If I were famous, I wouldn’t do a romcom either.

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