|Jersey Girl (2004)|
|DVD Romantic Comedy|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 07 September 2004|
Kevin Smith is a well-known smartass from New Jersey; some of his movies, including “Clerks,” “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma” are clever, intelligent and well-made. Others are pretty bad, including “Mallrats,” “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” and now “Jersey Girl.” All of them are suffused with Smith’s evident belief that he’s a sharp, witty observer of the world around him; actually, most of the time he seems to be examining his own navel with glad cries of discovery. But that in itself is not necessarily a failing; Woody Allen is equally self-obsessed, and he’s often very good.
But in “Jersey Girl” Kevin Smith has made the first movie that, had it been made by someone else, it’s unlikely that he would even see. It’s a maudlin, dreary, intensely sentimental—and intensely false—tale of fatherly love, of how a Jersey smartass wises up and realizes that (my god!) he actually has responsibilities to his motherless daughter. Smith is here violating the rule that has stood him (and others) in good stead: write what you know. “Jersey Girl” is a phony failure.
Publicity for the movie was hampered when its release followed “Gigli” and the most publicized celebrity pair breakup in recent history. However, Smith frankly admits that the famous collapse of the relationship of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez may have helped “Jersey Girl” more than it harmed it. Lopez is in the film only very briefly, so she doesn’t keep coming back like the ghost of relationships past.
The movie opens with cute little kiddies reading short essays that they’ve written—and the essays are so painfully false that already your back teeth start to ache. No children, ever, anywhere, talked like this at this age. It’s a hideous beginning—but it’s true to the movie that follows.
The big deal here is that Ben Affleck, as Ollie Trinke (a major mistake of a name), is a rock music publicist who has a whirlwind romance with Jennifer Lopez as Gertrude Steiney (where does Smith get these unbelievable monikers?). They marry, live happily for a while, Gertie gets pregnant, then suddenly dies as she’s giving birth to a baby girl.
Ollie grieves, understandably, and not so understandably abandons the care of the baby—also called Gertie—to his sarcastic father Bart (George Carlin). Still living in Jersey, Bart is a salt of the earth type who drives a street sweeper for a living, a salt of the earth job. Ollie burns out at a press conference, gets fired and moves in with his dad and Gertie.
It takes a while for him to pull himself together, but thanks to Bart’s prodding, he finally accepts responsibility for Gertie. She grows into a precocious child; Raquel Castro, the newcomer who plays the child Gertie, is adorable-looking and evidently at home on screen, but Smith saddles her with more phony-baloney “smart kid” dialog that we thought left the screen with Rusty Hamer.
Eventually, very eventually, Ollie begins dating video store clerk Maya (Liv Tyler), much to the delight of Gertie. There’s a potential crisis at the climax, of course, but, equally of course, everything finally comes out all right. Dramatically, anyway; the movie sits on the viewer like a 150-pound puppy, eager to please, but prone to big sloppy licks. And it just won’t go away.
In the too-many commentary tracks, Smith acknowledges that going from “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” to “Jersey Girl” was quite a reach for his small but fiendishly fantatical fan base. However, they went along with him—look at some of the comments on the IMDb entry for “Jersey Girl.” It’s unlikely, though, that those who are not converts to A View Askew (Smith’s production company) are going to get much out of “Jersey Girl;” in fact, it would be a surprise if most people can even reach the end.
It’s not the fault of the actors; Affleck is achingly sincere, working hard to show the various shades of Ollie, and Castro, too, is hard-working and honest. But all of them—all but one—are saddled with synthetic, sentimental dialogue that Smith seems to think is Capra-esque. Nope, it’s Capra-corn, the worst kind of pandering to the audience. Even George Carlin suffers, as does Lopez in her few scenes. The only one who comes out unscathed is Liv Tyler, who seems incapable of on-screen dishonesty. As long as she’s on screen, “Jersey Girl” comes to life. The rest of the time—well, it just doesn’t work.
Nor do the reams of extra material. First, there are two commentary tracks, one with Smith and Affleck, the other with Smith, producer Scott Mosier and “special guest” Jason Mewes (usually in Smith movies). Then there’s a very standard “making of” documentary, plus a dialogue between Smith and Affleck (your fondness for either will be put to the test), plus long, long text interviews—two with both Affleck and Smith. This seems almost book length. Finally, there are several of the “Roadside Attractions” shorts with Smith (but not directed by him) that aired on “Tonight” over the last couple of years. Some of these short travelogues to oddball tourist attractions are amusing, some are ghastly, and a couple are both. None of them have anything to do with “Jersey Girl.”
My advice is to do the same: have nothing to do with this syrupy “family movie,” and wait for Smith to get back in the groove.