Jersey Girl
review by KJ Doughton, 27 March 2004

Jersey Girl might not be Kevin Smith’s most original movie, but it’s daring all the same. Why? Because Smith, long a hero of subversive vulgarians and jaded potheads, has come to realize that good ol’ love of family – and the sacrifices inherent to successful parenting and marriage – are every bit as dramatic and “true” as clerk-store philosophy and chasing lesbians. As a bonus, it’s also the first life-affirming family values film in recent memory to use the term “coke whore.”

Critics will slam Smith’s movie for being cliched (it’s far more familiar territory than Dogma), but the reality is that life is often mundane, and predictable. Such is the price that Joe Family Man proudly pays to bring home the bacon, and Smith knows this. The director is a parent himself, and the cold winds of mortality have touched him via the passing of his father last year (Jersey Girl is dedicated to Smith’s beloved “Pop”). 

Such life-changing loss also impacts the fast-lane routine of Jersey Girl’s hero, Ollie Trinket (Ben Affleck), a slick music publicist with over 100 clients. Whooping it up with celebrities in New York, Trinket occasionally drops in on his grizzled, alcoholic dad (George Carlin, legendary comedian but an underrated actor whose expressive, lived-in eyes can elicit a wedding’s worth of emotions).

The elder Trinket lives a humble but proud existence driving a street-sweeper in New Jersey, and he’s a bit surprised when his typically self-involved son brings a new flame over to visit. Gertie (Jennifer Lopez) is an energetic firecracker of a book editor, whose spunk and honesty immediately find favor with the Old Man. “I was gonna dump him,” she says of Ollie, “but maybe I should sleep with him a few more times and stick around.” Before the night is over, father, son, and soon-to-be spouse are downing beers at the nearby watering hole.

Ollie and Gertie marry, but the union is short-lived and tragic. While giving birth to their daughter, Gertie suffers an aneurysm and dies abruptly on the delivery table. Ollie barely recovers from this jolting trauma, plunging into his work and leaving his infant in the older, wiser hands of his dad. But the widow’s pain surfaces inconveniently, during an important press conference. Angered by an impatient crowd of journalists, Ollie lambastes the masses as “jerk-offs writing for worthless rags.” Big mistake.

Following this outburst, Ollie is booted from his big-shot publicity company, settling in with dad for the next few years to ride shotgun in the street-sweeper as a public works employee. Meanwhile, Gertie Jr. (Raquel Castro) grows into a bright-eyed seven-year old with raven-haired curls and a heart-melting smile. But she’s not perfect. “Go back in and flush the toilet,” Ollie insists when her bathroom responsibilities go unfinished. Meanwhile, when the father seizes an opportunity to return to his old, big-city ways, Ollie must again choose between small-town stability and living large.

Smith has stated that Affleck acts as his onscreen doppelganger (think DeNiro and Scorsese as inebriated fraternity brothers, and you get the idea), a pretty-boy star impersonating the director’s own life experiences and perception for the camera (Chasing Amy). But this time, the casting choice seems wrong. We can buy a homely, insecure nebbish like Woody Allen trying to discreetly purchase a copy of “Orgasm” magazine from a busy bookstore, but when Smith has Affleck renting porno tapes at a video outlet, it’s tough to suspend disbelief. You see, Ollie has been celibate since his wife died, and he’s hard up. Put someone like, well, Smith himself (whose casual, rumpled, teddy-bear appearance is like an East Coast Michael Moore) in the picture, and it rings true. But Mr. Bennifer? No way.

And when the video store he stumbles into turns out to be managed by gorgeous Liv Tyler, who sympathizes with Ollie’s plight and offers him a “mercy jump,” we know we’re in a universe created only in Hollywood.

But so what? Even if the leads seem a tad too photogenic for this messy story, the film’s main themes ring true. Ollie must repeatedly make decisions. Work or family? New York or New Jersey? Show-biz glitz or down-home grit? And when he weathers traffic and other assorted obstacles in an effort to attend Gertie’s school play, this paternal mission is suspenseful. We sense his love for Gertie, and see what’s at stake, even if the setup is familiar.

For those old school Clerks fans crying “sellout,” Smith throws them a consolation prize by slathering his “nice” story with fecal-covered fart jokes and profane prick references. When Tyler confesses to being a serial masturbator, Ollie asks, “Don’t you get carpal tunnel?” And to the director’s credit, such parenting pleasantries as diaper changing are confronted head-on (“Wipe from front to back”).

One’s take on Jersey Girl will depend on audience expectations. For those willing to break away from the numbing, depression induced drone of such downers as Mystic River and Dawn of the Dead, Smith’s life-affirming valentine to fathers and daughters might serve as an uplifting Prozac for the eyes. Kevin Smith has weaned himself of doper gags and explored a new course while weathering life’s unpredictable path. But expect the ol’ profane jester to keep emerging, even as this View Askew guru continues getting older. After all, think of what he could do with colostomy bags, Attends, and stool softeners.

Written and
Directed by:

Kevin Smith

Ben Affleck
Liv Tyler
George Carlin
Jennifer Lopez

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.






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