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Jersey Girl (2004)

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 01/23/07 14:28:57

"Kevin Smith's fatherhood flick; perfectly fine."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Kevin Smith, the rude auteur behind the Jay & Silent Bob movies (including 'Clerks,' 'Chasing Amy' and 'Dogma'), has finally made a movie that grandmothers can go see. I know, because I saw several of them at the screening I attended.

Longtime fans, though, needn't fear Jersey Girl for its PG-13 rating and its cute-little-girl emphasis. The movie is mature and heartfelt, though not overly saccharine; I enjoyed it far more than I did Chasing Amy, Smith's previous attempt to speak truths about his life through the avatar of Ben Affleck (I realize Amy is some people's favorite Smith film, but it simply rubbed me the wrong way). Here, the story has just enough autobiography and just enough invention, and Smith doesn't feel the need to bury the characters' feelings in excess verbiage.

Affleck is Ollie Trinke, a sharpie ruling the roost at a New York PR firm. He meets and marries Gertrude (Jennifer Lopez, who in her brief appearance reminds you why she appealed to you before the whole J.Lo media assault); they have a daughter, whereupon Gertrude immediately dies. Ollie tries to juggle his job and new fatherhood for a brief time, fobbing the baby off on his gruff dad (George Carlin) whenever possible. After a particularly stressful night at the office, during which he insults both the press and his firm's hot new client, Ollie is ousted; he returns in disgrace to his dad's house, takes a job with him cleaning the streets of Highlands, New Jersey, and determines to be a better father.

Cut to seven years later: Ollie's daughter Gertie (Raquel Castro), whip-smart and precocious, has become the center of his world. Deep down, he still yearns for the monetary chaos of New York, the dazzle and deals, the life. Parenthood does change everything, as Bill Murray so memorably pointed out in Lost in Translation, and there may be a part of Kevin Smith that misses the old days, unfettered by children, in which he could hang out and read comics and make movies. It hasn't been entirely an either-or proposition for Smith, though: he has kept his hand in writing comics as well as making movies (his output may have slowed a little, but he's made two films now since the birth of his daughter). So Ollie's plight is something Smith sees happening to the people around him, I assume.

Complicating matters is an angel in New Jersey, in the form of Liv Tyler as a video-store clerk who openly hungers for Ollie (while, in the best Gen-X fashion, denying that she is). Affleck and Tyler have played lovers before, in the execrable Armageddon, but here, working with a real writer-director, they're charming enough to make you forget that idiotic animal-crackers scene. Like many movie widowers, Ollie is held back by continuing love for his dead wife, but we suspect he's also wary of getting attached to a New Jersey woman when he fully intends to move back to New York, someday. As an important PR job interview opens up, competing with Gertie's school-play performance of a number from Sweeney Todd (only in a Kevin Smith movie), Ollie faces a Hard Choice.

Jersey Girl is good-hearted entertainment that goes down easy. Do I miss the old Kevin Smith -- the one who trafficked in deliriously profane streams of insult and debate? Sure. Without asking for more Jay & Silent Bob, I do hope that Smith has more rascally commentary films like Dogma in his arsenal (he's already advised fans not to expect more family-friendly films where this came from). But as a one-shot essay on the pressures of fatherhood and the bewilderments of new love, it works fine.

Smith restores much of Ben Affleck's credibility as an actor, plucks the Elf ears off Liv Tyler and makes her glow anyway, writes the perfect irascible role for George Carlin, and handles (with the invaluable help of veteran cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond) the movie's weightier emotional moments with no evidence of undue strain. Not a bad way at all to kick off View Askew's second decade.

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