***1/2 (out of 5)
March 26, 2004
Ben Affleck as OLLIE TRINKLE
Liv Tyler as MAYA
George Carlin as BART TRINKLE
Jennifer Lopez as GERTRUDE STEINEY
Raquel Castro as GERTIE TRINKLE
Jason Biggs as ARTHUR BRICKMAN
Directed by: Kevin Smith
BY KEVIN CARR
If you paid any attention to how much floundering was done by Miramax and Kevin Smith as a result of “Gigli” taking it in the shorts last fall, you were bracing yourself for this movie to stink. I know I was. However, when all was said and done, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit.
“Jersey Girl” was meant to be a stretch for writer/director Kevin Smith, who spent his earlier films making jokes about “Star Wars” and pot. This new film was to be Smith’s first foray into serious filmmaking, a semi-autobiographical story about Smith’s own experiences as a new father. I was always curious whether Smith could direct out of the box. In many respects, he accomplishes this with “Jersey Girl.”
Unfortunately, Smith cannot resist his old stand-bys. I felt he didn’t go far enough out of the box. Smith wanted to make a romantic comedy, but couldn’t resist filling the dialogue with profanity, and even included a long “Clerks”-esque discussion about pornography. I’m not offended, mind you, but when this happened, it felt like Smith was pandering to his old audience.
The story actually has a lot of heart. Ollie Trinkle is a New York publicist who loves his job and his life. He meets Gertrude Steiney (Jennifer Lopez), and they get married. Soon, they are pregnant. However, there are complications during the birth, and Gertrude dies. Ollie is left to raise the kid on his own, with the help of his father (George Carlin) in New Jersey. For a while, Ollie tries to balance the duties of a new dad with his old job, but ends up getting fired and must get a job as a street sweeper to raise his daughter.
Smith’s biggest problem is that he tried to play a political studio game while retaining his role as the slacker hero who generally gave the finger to Hollywood. After “Gigli” bombed, Smith and the brothers Weinstein did a fancy tap dance for several months, flip-flopping more times than John Kerry does in a campaign speech.
It became a marketing scheme gone horribly awry. Before the “Gigli” curse hit, the folks in the “Jersey Girl” camp thought the Affleck/Lopez pairing would be a great opportunity to surf the couple’s press wave. However, like other high-profile pairings (like Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger in the stinker “The Marrying Man”), “Gigli” was so bad, it became a hindrance to the possible success of “Jersey Girl.”
Scenes with Jennifer Lopez were reportedly sliced out of the movie for relatively lame reasons. For example, Kevin Smith is even reported to have removed a flashback to their wedding because he didn’t want to “confuse” audiences who knew Lopez and Affleck didn’t get married in real life. Heck, he even reportedly blamed the press for the Affleck/Lopez breakup – not Lopez’ ego or Affleck’s penchant for strippers.
All this resulted in Lopez only being in the first 15 minutes of the film. And this, I believe, was the key to make the movie work. I found Jennifer Lopez irritating in the movie. I don’t buy her as the sweet young bride. Ultimately, the team of Ollie and Gertrude was like a Hollywood romance – two terribly attractive people living the high life and thinking only of themselves. The fact that Gertrude dies so early in the film is the only thing that saves her character. In this respect, the backlash from “Gigli” may have actually saved this film.
There are other rough spots in the film, the most annoying being how Smith handles crowds. Taken with the same mentality as if they stepped out of an old Mel Brooks comedy, the crowd scenes (including a press conference and a town meeting) have wildly unrealistic dialogue and just don’t work, proving that Smith’s strength is with two or three actors rather than a huge group.
Additionally, Smith’s chronology is a little off with a bunch of Will Smith jokes, which would be forgivable if the script was written by a comic fan from Hoboken instead of an inside Hollywood player. Other inside details (like how press conferences are run and the recording industry) are out of whack, but only to someone who deals with those industries. Your average movie-goer will not even notice this.
The saving grace in this film is Ben Affleck’s chemistry with Raquel Castro. Affleck is capable of really atrocious acting (e.g., “Daredevil”). He’s also capable of really good acting. In fact, I feel one of his best acting performances was in “Armageddon” – possibly because it was his first blockbuster and he still had something to prove. Both Affleck and Castro give incredibly solid performances, proving that Smith can direct actors in serious work as well as screwball comedies.