Jersey Girl

Laura Clifford 
Jersey Girl
Robin Clifford 
After his wife dies in childbirth, Ollie Trinke's (Ben Affleck, "Paycheck") depression costs him his job as the youngest, most successful music publicist in New York City, but his dad Bart (George Carlin, "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back") refuses to let his son stop being a dad to his new daughter Gertie (newcomer Raquel Castro).  After years living in his dad's New Jersey home and working with his dad in the city sanitation department, Ollie gets a shot at returning to his Manhattan glory days only to learn that Gertie is a stalwart "Jersey Girl."

Fans expecting a 'Kevin Smith movie,' should be forewarned that his latest, "Jersey Girl," doesn't fit the usual mold.  Obviously expecting a backlash, Smith issued a director's statement explaining how marriage and fatherhood had changed him and the sincerity with which he made this picture.  What he's delivered is a cute, if formulaic, reflection on the relationship between a single dad and his daughter featuring an enjoyable Affleck performance and a Liv Tyler romantic pairing with no animal crackers in sight.

A 'kids say the darndest things' montage of first grader essays is Smith's jumping off point. Catholic school-uniformed Gertie gets up to declare 'My father says our life is divided in two halves - the New York half and the Jersey half...'  Flash back to December of 1994 and the brash young Ollie sits high atop a glittering Manhattan with his adoring assistant Arthur (Jason Biggs, "Anything Else") while handling clients like Madonna.  He's madly in love with the down to earth Gertrude Steiney (Jennifer Lopez, "Gigli") who is equally at home in Ollie's dad's local Jersey bar the Clamdigger as she is at his glitzy events.  Stingy with the time he gives Gertrude in life, he is nonetheless devastated by her death.  When his dad forces him to deal with his newborn, Ollie caves under the pressure at a press-packed Hard Rock publicity event he's arranged, dissing his client, Will Smith, as a 2nd rate television actor, and the journalists who care about him as writing meaningless junk .  Ollie Trinke has just become legendary for all the wrong reasons.

The New Jersey section is the real meat of the movie.  Ollie hangs with dad and dad's buddies Greenie (Stephen Root, "The Ladykillers") and Block (Mike Starr, "Knockaround Guys"), a kind of three godfather grouping for Gertie.  Ollie and Gertie have their rituals, like his constant reminders for her to flush the toilet (a set up to a shower scene gag shown ad nauseam in trailers) and visits to the video store where he implores her to choose anything but "Dirty Dancing."  It is at the video store that Ollie meets clerk Maya Harding (Liv Tyler, "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King") who, seeing his selection, asks if she can interview him for her graduate thesis on married men and porn.  Ollie seems comfortable in his blue collar life until he works old muscles at a town meeting and sways the crowd.  Will nice guy Ollie return to his Slick Willie lifestyle, leaving all that love behind?  And furthermore, will Ollie miss "Jersey Girl's" climatic event - his daughter's appearance in a school musical?  It doesn't take a New York intellectual to guess the answer.

In writing his self-professed 'most personal, from the heart' work, Kevin Smith ironically shows that he can turn out boilerplate screenplays with the best of them.  Still, his film does have genuine affection for its characters and Smith's cheek peaks through every now and then, like when Ollie comforts his hugely pregnant wife by telling her his glamorous clients are all skinny 'cuz they're coked out whores.'  Smith's affection for Affleck is even more evident by his written ribbing, making buddy Ben admit to seven years without sex and having him guffawed at during a job interview with cameoing Matt Damon and Jason Lee.

Affleck is at his customary ease in Smith's hands.  He runs with Ollie, successfully guiding him from slickster to a guy who gets offered mercy sex by a video clerk.  He never fully lets go of the first persona, as evidenced by his derisive reaction to Gertie's begging to go to "Cats." His chemistry with young Raquel Castro is perfectly natural, although Affleck errs ever so slightly by being a dad who is more pally than paternal for Gertie's seven years.  Liv Tyler takes the sexy/nerdy path, recently seen with her Oscar eyeglasses trick, and pulls it off, believable as a small town girl who may get left behind.  J Lo's brief appearance was not a distraction to this viewer, even with Smith saddling the real life glam couple of the time with names like Ollie and Gertrude.  It requires a some suspension of disbelief to buy George Carlin as Ollie's dad.  Carlin isn't really an actor, but he does have a warm presence which buys good will.

"Jersey Girl" ends with the typical crosscut of 'adult realization of what's really important,' here done cutesy with Will Smith (in what alternate universe would an ad agency leave Will Smith in a public lobby?), with 'child about to be stood up' as Gertie waits to perform a number meant to costar her dad as all her classmates trot out "Memories" with their moms (again, what school administration would allow this to happen?).  Like the rest of the film's mechanics, though, for every manipulation Smith puts us through he wins us back with offbeat heart.  The absurdity of a seven year old singing Mrs. Lovett's part to her dad's Sweeney Todd makes "Jersey Girl's" daddy's little girl sentiment much more palatable.


Robin did not see this film.

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