Anatomy of a Queer Sex Scene: People Hated ‘Gigli’ (2003) for the Wrong Reasons

Welcome to Anatomy of a Queer Sex Scene, a series by Drew Burnett Gregory and Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya about queer sex scenes in film. This week, we revisit the Jennifer Lopez/Ben Affleck much-panned 2003 film Gigli, directed by Martin Brest.


Kayla: Alright, today we’re going to discuss a film that will potentially be controversial for Anatomy of a Queer Sex Scene: Gigli (2003).

Drew: It is our first time writing about a movie where the queer sex scene involves a cis man. A cis straight man, I should add. But it’s with a lesbian. Do people know this? Do people know that Jennifer Lopez plays a lesbian in the movie Gigli? I’ve been hearing about this movie since it got released, and I had no idea. It was a total surprise when my girlfriend and I decided to watch it after the high of This Is Me… Now and the greater high of the making-of documentary The Greatest Love Story Never Told.

Kayla: I learned Jennifer Lopez plays a lesbian in the much maligned 2003 film Gigli when I watched it for the first time in around 2015 for a never-released podcast I’ve mentioned in this series. The podcast was called Talk Jenny to Me, and for it, my friend and I watched movies starring famous Jennifers we previously had not seen. Gigli was one of them. I was shocked — SHOCKED — at the reveal her character was a lesbian, which is brought up about a half hour into the film.

Drew: I was immediately like WAIT I thought this was a romance between her and Ben?? Which… it is. Because girls and gays, gender and sexuality are complex.

Kayla: Yes, we’re going to discuss a film in which a lesbian has sex with a straight cis man — an experience I have personally partaken in more than once in life.

Drew: I haven’t but I’m working on it.

Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck standing with their faces close together in Gigli

Kayla: Should we say what the film is about? It’s a pretty thin plot.

Drew: Yeah, let’s give a brief summary.

Kayla: Ben Affleck plays a gangster but not a very good one it seems like? And he’s tasked with kidnapping a federal prosecutor’s little brother, and actually I’ll stop right there, because that’s one of the genuinely awful things about this film. Justin Bartha is giving a wildly offensive performance as a disabled man, who is the brother Affleck’s character Larry Gigli kidnaps.

Drew: Yeah, this is why people SHOULD hate this movie. But I had never even heard about this part? The negative buzz around the movie was completely tied to Jen and Ben’s relationship and jokes about how they don’t even have chemistry on-screen. (Not true.) Says a lot about Hollywood and 2003 and SOCIETY that the narrative was focused on them and not this very, very offensive character and performance. Also as a character he’s just the MacGuffin? Like he just exists to bring Ben and Jen together in this low level gangster plot?

It was such a weird experience watching the movie because I was like, oh yes it’s bad, but only in the parts no one talked about as bad??

Kayla: Yes, because the plot is basically that a mob boss has put two contractors — Larry (Affleck) and Ricki (Lopez) — on the same job, but then they fall in love. So Bartha’s character doesn’t even need to exist really, which makes it all even more offensive! And yet people were really just making fun of J.Lo and Ben being cringe? Which as you said, they’re not! They’re actually oozing chemistry, and there’s something fascinating happening in this movie sexuality-wise, even if it’s not intentional.

Jennifer Lopez lifting her leg in a suggestive stretch in Gigli

Drew: After watching the film, I was like this is gay trans girl cinema canon and I want to write about it…but because of this one aspect I’m hesitant to write like a full reappraisal of the film. So I’m glad we found a home to discuss it here, because the sex and sexuality between the two leads is where the film shines.

Kayla: Yes! So before there’s sex, there’s a whole scene where Ricki is doing yoga very slowly and explaining to Larry why she thinks gay sex is superior. And she’s definitely leaning into some essentialism about genitalia here. But Larry is pretty awestruck and not in the expected way of like sexualizing lesbian sex from a cis male perspective — at least not by my reading!

Drew: Mine neither.

J.Lo doing yoga in Gigli

Drew: Also to anyone wondering, yes this is the second movie where Ben Affleck falls in love with a lesbian. And while I support the Chasing Amy reevaluation that’s happened, I think this movie is far more interesting in its takes on sex and gender. Because yeah Larry isn’t interested in turning Ricki. He’s interested in joining her?

Kayla: Yes, he is like…this lesbian sex you speak of…I want to have it.

Drew: Ricki is also very explicit about being a top, and he’s like okayyyyy works for meeeeee.

Like, no, I do not believe every relationship has a masculine energy and a feminine energy, but I do think it’s noteworthy Ricki is saying that and then being like I’m masculine, you’re feminine, and Larry is like yup agreed.

Also sorry that yoga scene has to be the hottest gender essentialism in movie history.

Kayla: If you’re gonna do gender essentialism, at LEAST make it horny.

Drew: That’s what I’m saying!

J.Lo doing yoga

Drew: And in the context of her falling for Larry, it kind of undoes the biological things she’s getting at. Because in the end, what she’s talking about is just an energy, and she finds that energy in Larry, a supposedly cishet man with a penis.

Kayla: Yes! And she doesn’t really spiral about it or anything. She’s just like okay this is happening. She’s not rigid about these categories in the end.

Drew: Yes! And while I understand in 2003 this would be an awful movie to watch as a cis lesbian, 21 years later it’s very hot and very fascinating.

As a lesbian of has a crush on Ben Affleck experience…

Kayla: I’m so attracted to both of them in this movie that I think if I’d seen it just a little bit earlier on my queer journey, I would have been like oh, I’m bisexual.

But I was already pretty comfortable with identifying as a lesbian at this point, so I was instead like I’m a lesbian attracted to Ben Affleck.

Which is in fact the plot of the movie.

Life imitates art.

Drew: Right, and what I love about my personal pocket of the queer community is we understand those can ultimately be the same thing, and different labels can mean different things for different people and feel right or wrong for different people, and debating the exact meaning of a label is a waste of time. Which, yes, is core to this movie.

J.Lo and Ben Affleck reading a book in bed

Drew: Ultimately, I do think the response to this movie was due to homophobia and transphobia. I know that’s a wild thing to say about Gigli, but I think people were deeply uncomfortable with a movie that took one of the most famous couples and quite literally forcefemmed the man.

That aspect of the movie made people uncomfortable. And look it’s not like I Am Sam or Radio got great reviews. I do think by the early 2000s people were starting to move past the Rain Man/Forrest Gump heaping of praise on offensive mental disability portrayals. But that simply wasn’t the discourse around this movie.

It was all about Ben and Jen and their lack of chemistry and talent and that’s just an impossible takeaway from this film unless you find a man being feminized by a lesbian to be off-putting.

Kayla: Absolutely! All of this!

Drew: Should we get to the sex scene itself?

Kayla: Yes! So Ricki makes the first move, and Larry is like I thought you needed a woman, and she’s like don’t I have one?

Drew: AFTER GRABBING HIS BOOB. Like, she pinches his nipple, but it’s kind of a full boob grab.

Kayla: And while he’s hesitant, he isn’t grossed out or weird about it!

Drew: No, he’s like ow lol.

The exact exchange is “You need a woman.” / “I got one.”

Kayla: And then she’s like, I thought you wanted to be my bitch.

Honestly, jaw on the floor rewatching that part.

Drew: By that point I, Drew Burnett Gregory, watching at home, am drooling.

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in bed together

Drew: Oh, it feels important to note that they’ve already had a lengthy chat about cunnilingus. Which only slightly explains J.lo opening her legs and saying “It’s turkey time. Gobble gobble.”

Kayla: And then “lay some of that sweet heterolingus on me.”

Drew: The levels of hot you have to be to say these words and…sell them???

Kayla: It is impressive!

Drew: I love how he starts to backtrack, like, no don’t expect too much.

Kayla: He’s like maybe I do need to learn a thing or two about pleasing a woman I take back everything I previously said.

Drew: As someone of cishet guy experience, the bar does feel waaaay lower in terms of “good at sex” when sleeping with straight women lol. It’s very easy to out gobble gobble other straight men.

Kayla: I knew a lot of gay guys who were closeted in college who have since come out, especially ones in frats, who had reputations for being AMAZING at sex…but it was literally because they were just going down on girls a lot.

Drew: Right some of it is doing it in the first place and for more than 30 seconds.

Kayla: A proper sex god right there!

Drew: The way her leg is swinging back and forth as they’re talking…it’s like her pussy is literally on fire and she’s cooling it off.

Ben Affleck in ectasy
Drew: Cue sentimental music lololol.

Frankly a background score here that would fit in perfectly with the sex scenes of any number of low budget lesbian movies on Tubi. Just iMovie searching “romantic guitar.”

Kayla: The music is off-putting and really adds a layer of tenderness that doesn’t imo fit the vibe of the sex they’re having, which again is quite transgressive! I suppose something can be tender and transgressive.

Drew: Right, they’re like jostling for top position and the music is like aw how sweet. Which is discordant, but I do think kind of works at making this feel like a big gender discovery moment for Larry. The sex itself could just be like hot kinky experiment, but the music makes it feel like oh Larry is about to change her pronouns.

Kayla: Haha okay, yes, this makes me feel better about the discordance! Larry really is along for the ride. You can tell this isn’t the kind of sex he’s ever had before.

Drew: Right! And that he’s enjoying it so much more than whatever wham bam thank you ma’am half a dozen pumps he’s used to. Also once it’s done, he’s resting in her arms.

Kayla: Looking so peaceful and satisfied!

Larry in Ricki's arms in Gigli

Drew: If I’d made the movie, she would’ve explicitly fucked him, but I don’t trust the guy who made this to have any idea what actual positions they were doing, so I’ll take the ambiguity.

Kayla: I do think you should have made the movie Gigli.

Drew: I would’ve made such a good movie Gigli. I want to write and direct a sequel. How do I get powerful and famous enough to convince them to heal this old wound? With me as their guide.

Kayla: A sequel about Lauren Gigli.

Drew: Trans actors in trans roles except for Ben Affleck in Gigli 2.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 837 articles for us.

Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 534 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. Honestly as a fan of b-movies and films that get slotted into the “so bad it’s good” camp – Gigli is the one that I’d heard a lot of people raving about that I hadn’t gotten to watching yet. All I had been told about it was that it was bad because of the dialogue, thin plot, and “lack of chemistry” between the leads (and also that Christopher Walken is in this talking about pie?). Reading a review that critiques that reputation is really interesting to me! Like yeah, it probably isn’t a masterpiece either, but you’re doing a real service by highlighting the double-standard here.

  2. “Drew: Yeah, this is why people SHOULD hate this movie. But I had never even heard about this part? The negative buzz around the movie was completely tied to Jen and Ben’s relationship and jokes about how they don’t even have chemistry on-screen. (Not true.) Says a lot about Hollywood and 2003 and SOCIETY that the narrative was focused on them and not this very, very offensive character and performance. ”

    Oh my gosh, yes. As an undiagnosed neurodivergent person who remembers 2003 too well, times were ROUGH. I remember the discussion about this movie was all about Jen and Ben’s relationship and how “bad” they acted together. I didn’t even know there was a disabled character in it until I watched the film and I was like uh…..wtf is this? Really REALLY bad but it speaks to the culture as to why no one cared to mention that.

  3. Oh thank goodness, I’m glad the consensus has apparently caught up to my perception of Forrest Gump as profoundly uncomfortable at best, and deeply offensive at worst. I felt so weird thinking it was not this great wonder of film but instead a little creepy with an exploitation vibe.

    I don’t really want to relive that and watch this movie, but I’ll be honest, Affleck’s role in this sounds very relatable…

  4. okay you don’t even understand… last week i watched gigli and was astonished and delighted to see that it resolved the conflict of a man falling in love with a lesbian by having her crack his egg but like. who was i supposed to talk to about this revelation? am i supposed to call my mom and say hey gigli rules actually? it’s gay trans girl canon? so thank you for going on the exact same journey as me at the exact same time. also i can’t believe you didn’t mention that the sex scene opens with jen telling ben, “you need to trim your nails.” that’s when i knew we were off to the races.

  5. LMAO more whining as per usual, there’s a common tendency among inidivuduals who consider themselves lgbt to think that every single criticism of anything containing homosexuality is invalid because it invalidates their identity. Shockingly people can both disagree with the lifestyle and depiction of it (which is valid, people can and disagree with basically anything they want), and/or also disagree with the movie for a variety of reasons, in many cases poor quality. Frankly doesn’t this continued victimhood complex get tiresome.

  6. I totally forgot her character was a lesbian in Gigli. I saw the movie in theaters when it came out and personally I liked it. I can’t recall any other feelings about it. I agree, back then the backlash was a lot of making fun of Bennifer and homophobia. I can see the transphobia now, as stated in this write up. Not a word I knew in 2003. I’m going to watch it again now with a new POV. I may have watched it one other time after it was released on video.

  7. This series was a great idea! As a French cinema fan, I’ve been wondering if you might do Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Anais in Love or Je tu il elle in this series? I get if you want to keep it a suprise!

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