Bye bye Bennifer
Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner have split - and fans are distraught. Tanya Sweeney on the A-list celebrity couple who won our hearts by acting just like regular people
Some months ago, the split of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner probably seemed as likely a showbiz story as Kim Kardashian giving up selfies or Gwyneth Paltrow enjoying a Big Mac.
To the untrained eye, the couple were something of a refreshing and wholesome antidote to the heady Hollywood carousel. More likely to be seen ambling around farmers' markets with their three children (Violet, nine, Seraphina, six and Samuel, three) than throwing shapes on Tinseltown's tiles, the distinct lack of high drama in Camp Bennifer was seemingly the sign of a union that was bond-solid.
Even when speculation surfaced in May of tension in paradise, it seemed less like a real possibility and more like the witterings of tabloid tittle-tattlers looking for trouble. Somehow, it makes the announcement of their split - made the day after their tenth wedding anniversary - all the more shocking.
Certainly, Ben was spotted going solo without his wedding ring in April… but what about that recent rash of paparazzi photos where the couple made several outings with their little ones? Surely they can't have been highly-choreographed, falsely candid shots to keep folks guessing?
Further throwing the ambulance chasers off the scent, Garner mused about marriage in May: "You just go on a ride together because you don't know who you're going to be when you first have a baby and you don't know who (your partner) is going to be.
"You have to just hang in there while you figure it out - and have a lot of patience for each other."
But highly-trained showbiz bloodhounds may have noted the rumblings of tension as far back as 2013, when in his Oscar speech after winning Best Picture for Argo, Affleck announced his marriage as "work, but the best kind of work".
He wasn't lying: this split certainly isn't something the pair have taken lightly, and have, according to one report, been in marital therapy for close to two years. Yet the announcement of their split seemed to throw the Twittersphere for a loop.
"No Bennifer, you absolutely can't do this to me," was a tweet that has surfaced time and time again.
Either way, the pair now face down the task of splitting some $150m (€135m) worth of assets and five properties, sans pre-nup. And the post-mortems, predictably, have begun in earnest. Speculation is rampant that Ben's gambling habits (he was thrown off a blackjack table in Vegas recently) triggered some marital strife.
Indeed, the director has been forced to deny time and time again that he is grappling with a gambling addiction. What he will readily admit to, however, is being a workaholic. Recently, Affleck laid bare the sad truth that his work ethic makes him occasionally hard to live with.
"I am not very present in the rest of my life," the director admitted to Details magazine. "If I have time, I try to spend time with the kids, even if just to be a physical presence, the bath, whatever. But my mind's always going, 'How are we going to light that shot tomorrow?'"
But why, of all the recent celebrity splits, has this one captured the public the way it has? After all, Affleck and Garner were (seemingly, at least) almost slavish to their devotion of the mundane and the normal. It hadn't always been this way for Affleck, of course, who found himself in the uncomfortable position of being tabloid catnip during his engagement to Jennifer Lopez.
Where Garner is wholesome and approachable, Lopez made her way in Hollywood for being anything but. Overblown, overly-decorated and hyper-stylised, Lopez didn't become a diva for nothing. That the down-home Affleck wandered into her crosshairs was something that tickled the media for a long time. He may have been front and centre of the original Ben'n'Jen panto, but it wasn't a role that Ben appeared to wear comfortably.
Further mirthful ire was raised when the actor appeared in Lopez's pointedly ghetto fabulous video for her single 'Jenny From The Block'.
Moving from the mega-watt Lopez to the relatively unassuming Jennifer Garner made celebrity watchers sit up and take notice.
If Ben's former fiancee was an ill-fitting match for him, Garner and Affleck appeared to be hand in glove. All told, the relationship was the perfect palate cleanser after the original Bennifer media circus.
Often resplendent in flats, unkempt hair and mum jeans, Jennifer became a sort of attainable, yet aspirational figurehead for the school-run set. Her look was resolutely wholesome and normal, which in a world where A-listers pop out for groceries in cutaway bodycon or some other try-hard ensemble, somehow served to make Garner more strangely exotic than many of her contemporaries.
Even their encounter appeared to come straight out of a meet-cute scene from a Hollywood rom-rom. After sparking a platonic friendship on the set of 2001's Pearl Harbour, the two actors played lovers in the 2003 blockbuster Daredevil. Much unlike the case with Lopez's much-maligned video, the chemistry between Affleck and Garner was plain for all to see.
Yet in drawing up the co-ordinates of their romance, Hollywood commentators often cite a certain reality show in which the two appeared. Actor Jon Favreau ran a series called Dinner For Five, where a group of actors eat dinner together. For one episode, Affleck and Garner sat with Colin Farrell, Favreau and Kevin Smith.
The episodes aired in January 2003, when Affleck was still engaged to Lopez and Garner was married to fellow actor Scott Foley.
Regardless, it was clear from the outset that this was a twosome who could conjure chemistry on-screen precisely because it was there in spades off-screen.
Yet not even the 'best kind of work' could keep this marriage up on rails. Are they two ordinary people (who, granted, happen to live pretty extraordinary lives) who simply drifted apart? Or is their marriage a casualty of a celebrity culture that, when it comes to the personal lives of its biggest players, takes no prisoners? It's hard to say.
Still, the feverish media attention that Bennifer's split is currently facing raises an interesting point. Today's celebrity culture, not least in these Twitter-saturated times, fosters a sense of ownership over celebrities.
With every modicum of detail readily on tap for the public's delectation, it's not usual for us to foster a keen sense of intimacy with the Hollywood elite. Quite apart from anything else, on the totem pole of showbiz stories, there's nothing we love more than a celebrity split. And there hasn't been a split in quite some time of a couple of this star-power.
And instead of the deliciously indiscreet airing of dirty laundry we were once treated to, we get conscious uncoupling and going forward with love. It's all very dignified and grown-up… well, to the public's mind, at least.
So far, the Bennifer divorce has all the markings of a similarly mature affair, complete with mediators who will work out the gritty minutiae, including spousal and child support. Both parties are reportedly striving to be devoted parents to their three children, with US Magazine noting that Affleck will live in a separate house on the grounds of their Brentwood compound so that they can share joint custody of Violet, Seraphina and Sam.
So far, so level-headed. Who knows, but Jen and Ben might be about to join the likes of Chris and Gwyneth (another one of Affleck's exes, as it happens) in the ranks of the blissfully uncoupled very soon. Time will tell.