Jersey Girl

The first thing that flashes across the screen in Jersey Girl is the logo for View Askew, Kevin Smith's production company, which is celebrating ten years of movies. Wow, has it really been that long? Apparently so, since Clerks came out in 1994. In the intervening years, Smith has made Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. One of the constants across all these films is a penchant for lots of dialogue, a lot of it pretty raucous, and some pretty darn funny humor, a lot of it pretty raunchy. But one cannot keep doing the same thing, especially in Smith's case. He got married and had a child, and his father, whom he dedicated Jersey Girl, died. Jersey Girl is a step forward for Smith, who attempts to make a more serious, grown-up film with deeper themes and characterizations that he usually does. And there has been all the hoopla surrounding the fact that because Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck were both here, it had the potential to be another Gigli. Well, what everybody failed to acknowledge was that this is Smith's film, and there is nothing in his resume to suggest that Jersey Girl would be anywhere as awful.

If it makes anybody feel better, Lopez's (Gigli, Maid in Manhattan) character, Gertrude Steiney, dies shortly into the film. This is a plot necessity, since Jersey Girl is about a single dad raising his daughter. Ollie Trinkie (Affleck, Paycheck, Gigli), is an up-and-coming music agent who falls in love with Steiney. The two live a flashy lifestyle in New York, and soon get married. However, Steiney dies in childbirth, which forces Ollie to change his entire lifestyle. Apparently the life of an agent does not mesh with that of a father. Reality strikes when he has to fend off a pack of rabid journalists who are awaiting some unknown rapper named Will Smith and he has his daughter. It does not go well, and he's soon moving in with his father Bart (George Carlin, Scary Movie 3, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) in Jersey. Flash forward seven years and his daughter Gertie (Raquel Castro) is an unnaturally cute little girl. Ollie now works for the city, sweeping streets among other things while caring for his daughter. This is probably the biggest flaw with the story. Smith doesn't acknowledge that there is a middle ground. Gertrude and Ollie sure seem rich. Why not hire a babysitter? Or a nanny? And yes, he may have completely disgraced himself, but is the only job left a street sweeper? Ollie seems to be a smart guy. He can probably get something a little bit better.

Smith is one of the few people that can make Affleck seem like a human being. Well, maybe it's because he has to come across as a jerk for much of the film. Still, Affleck's lack of acting ability is hidden here, and overshadowed by Castro and Carlin. Smith very amusingly cast Carlin as a Cardinal in Dogma. Here, he is an alcoholic grandfather. Still, the role of Bart is very different from his comedic persona, because it is so gentle and caring. And Carlin works wonders here. He is gruff and terse, yet a truly nice guy who wants the best for his family. And then there is Castro. The whole purpose of Jersey Girl is to be cute, and Castro fits the bill. She has a sunny, precocious personality, which complements Carlin and yes, even Affleck very well.

There is a lot of sap in the film, and that is to be expected. And there is still a lot of Smith's trademark humor and language in here. How the language in the film got a PG-13 is beyond this reviewer. The raunch level is also surprisingly high given the subject matter, yet oddly doesn't seem that out of place. There is also some really oddball stuff going on, like a mini-production of Sweeney Todd near the end of the film. Again, this is Smith's first attempt at striking a more serious tone, and he still needs to hone his approach. Many of the plot points are familiar cliches, with his dialogue and humor the only thing keeping the story fresh. The dramatic tension in Jersey Girl comes from Ollie's desire for his old and the reality of his new one. To increase the draw of the latter, Smith introduces Maya (Liv Tyler, The Return of the King, The Two Towers), the hot, brainy video store clerk who begins to fall for him. It's pretty obvious what Ollie will choose in the end, but the nice part about Jersey Girl is that it doesn't bother the viewer that much knowing the ending well in advance.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 43 minutes, Rated PG-13 for language and sexual content including frank dialogue.

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