Jersey Girl Review
By Shawn McKenzie 04/17/2004
Anyone who knows me knows that I am the biggest Kevin Smith worshiper around. I’ve seen all of his movies several times, and own all of the special edition DVD versions as well. I’ve even tried to catch every movie produced by the man (those aren’t quite as good, since he isn’t the writer and/or director.) He is, in a sense, a Geek God. That is the main problem with his latest movie, Jersey Girl…it doesn’t have enough geek appeal.
Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck) was successful Manhattan music publicist in 1994 working for a firm called Mendel Kirshner. He also had a beautiful girlfriend named Gertrude Steiney (Jennifer Lopez.) They quickly got married and pregnant with their first child. Unfortunately, during labor, Gertrude suffered a brain aneurysm due to the strain of childbirth, which left Ollie all alone to raise their newborn daughter, Gertie. He moves in with his widowed father, Bart (George Carlin), so he’ll watch his granddaughter while Ollie continues to work. Bart, who works for the Borough of Highlands in New Jersey as a street sweeper and city worker, also offers Ollie some emotional support. The pressure of trying to raise Gertie and do his job reaches a boiling point at a charity event for then sitcom star and rapper Will “The Fresh Prince” Smith (appearing as himself.) He was donating the house from the cover of his Rock the House album to charity, but when the rapper is running late, Ollie’s frustration leads him to insult the future blockbuster star. The outburst gets him fired and blackballed in the industry, which also affects his assistant, Arthur Brickman (Jason Biggs.) The movie then fast-forwards seven years, and Gertie (Raquel Castro) is now a student at St. Maria Goretti Elementary School, while Ollie now works with Bart and his two friends, Greenie (Stephen Root) and Block (Mike Starr), for the city’s public works department. He loves his daughter, but he still wants to get back into the publicist world. He has also avoided dating anyone else. One night, while visiting a local video store called Mub & Renee’s Video Blast, he and Gertie meet graduate student Maya Harding (Liv Tyler), the clerk working at the store. She is doing a graduate thesis called “Porn and the Family Man,” and when Ollie attempts to rent some porn, she takes an interest in him. After learning that he hasn’t had sex since Gertrude died, she wants to give him a “pity jump,” though it is obvious that she likes him for more than just a one-night stand. His developing relationship with Maya and his ongoing relationship with Gertie, especially while helping her prepare for her performance of a scene from Sweeney Todd for the school pageant, makes him finally start to accept his lot in life. When Arthur, now a big wig at a firm called Angelotti, gets him an interview, Ollie has to decide between living his Jersey life and going back to his New York life.
There are two main problems with this movie for the millions of geek fans (like me) of Smith. First, this is Smith’s first PG-13 rated movie. I have seen him do softer than R-rated material, and it was funny, but the problem here leads us to our second problem…the subject matter. I can attest that, as social and friendly as we are, geeks don’t have much of a life. Therefore, we don’t have girlfriends and certainly no wives, and because of this, we have no children. It is hard to identify with this movie like we could in his past movies because it relates to a subject that not many of us have experienced. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to be fathers…we just haven’t had the opportunity, and probably won’t for awhile.
Smith was one of the lucky ones. This movie is loosely based on his own life, where he met a hot woman (a former journalist for USA Today named Jennifer Schwalbach), married her, and now has a daughter. I guess you could say that he is an inspiration for his geek followers, but unfortunately, this movie is littered with too many sappy clichés. I know that Smith can make a movie with feelings that doesn’t feel clichéd (just check out Chasing Amy), but this one has too many for my taste.
Unlike some Smith fans, I don’t mind that he has moved on from the View Askewniverse. If you are not familiar with what the View Askewniverse is, it’s the common link between his first five movies where he references characters interchangeably, and all of them featured the characters Jay and Silent Bob. It made you feel like all of the movies were occurring in the same little world. This movie doesn’t make any references to his past films (even during a cameo scene featuring Jason Lee and Matt Damon), and there is no Jay or Silent Bob (heck, Smith himself doesn’t even appear in it.) The reason I don’t mind this is that I don’t want Smith to be pigeon-holed in this little world he has created for himself. I’d like to see him do other types of films, including comic book films like The Green Hornet (planned for 2005), so I can accept some change.
So why am I so down on this touchy-feely movie if I can accept change? It’s because I know that Smith is capable of better. I bet he could even make a G-rated kiddie movie good, and that is why I’m a little disappointed here. I liked the movie better than some touchy-feely flicks, but I have to take points away from it for being something that I might see many other directors come out with in any given year.
There were some good performances though. Affleck is always good in Smith’s films. Carlin is very good, and it makes me wonder why he doesn’t act more often. J-Lo is fine for her role here, and unlike Gigli, she doesn’t bring this film down. I really like Tyler, but I kind of thought she was a little miscast. She is the geek fantasy of a video store clerk, but in reality, hot women like Tyler don’t tend to have a geek-like pop culture mind and work in a video store. Also, she didn’t have the best chemistry with Affleck (didn’t Smith see Armageddon?)
Jersey Girl will be the first Smith film that I wouldn’t give a perfect score. I am looking forward to The Green Hornet and Fletch Won (if he ever gets around to making it), but this film is one that I’ll chop up as a minor stumbling block in an almost perfect career. The Geek God still rules, but his shimmer has faded just slightly.
Thanks to Century Theatres for letting me see this film. Visit them at www.centurytheatres.com to find the location near you.
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