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”).
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.
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
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.
PG-13 - Parents
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.