Friday, June 26, 2015
Jersey Girl (2004) * * *
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Starring: Ben Affleck, George Carlin, Raquel Castro, Jason Biggs, Liv Tyler, Stephen Root, Jennifer Lopez
Jersey Girl's production occurred smack dab in the middle of the nation's "Bennifer" obsession circa 2003. The tabloids documented every move either Ben Affleck or Jennifer Lopez made. Soon, it became a backlash and Jersey Girl's box office suffered. People stayed away from what turned out to be a pretty darn good movie. It is an intelligent and gentle family comedy written and directed by Kevin Smith, whose previous films did not prepare us for the touching moments that occur here. Clerks was funny, but certainly not gentle. The same holds true for any movie that featured Jay and Silent Bob. They are absent in Jersey Girl and maybe that's for the better.
Ben Affleck, a Kevin Smith mainstay, stars as Ollie Trinke, a high-powered Manhattan publicist who deals with subordinates and the media brusquely. He meets, falls for, and marries Gertrude (Lopez). Lopez was reportedly in more scenes, but they were left on the cutting room floor. A short time later, Gertrude dies in childbirth, leaving Ollie to raise his daughter. Consumed more by his career than his child, he pawns off the parenting duties to his father Bart (Carlin) until Bart finally puts his foot down on the day of a major press conference for Will Smith to promote his burgeoning film career. (The film opens in the mid-1990s). "Like the Fresh Prince will ever have a movie career," Ollie scoffs.
Ollie is forced to bring his infant daughter to the press conference. It goes horribly wrong and Ollie is fired for openly trashing Smith to the throng of reporters. He is persona non grata in the public relations field, so Ollie moves to suburban North Jersey to live with his father and come to terms with his parenting responsibilities. He does so in a moving scene.
7 years pass. Ollie works with his dad in the local public works department and loves to take his daughter on rides in the street sweeper. He is a doting and loving father, keeping the promise he made to her when she was just an infant. He meets Maya (Tyler), who works at the local video store, and notices his frequent porno rentals. She learns he hasn't had sex since his wife died and sympathizes. She even offers to give him a mercy lay. Ollie and Maya's relationship is not handled in the usual love at first sight manner. Maya is all too aware of the shadow Ollie's late wife casts over things and they proceed cautiously.
Ollie yearns to return to the world of Manhattan public relations. He applies for jobs, but is only brought in for interviews just so the executives can find out if he indeed is the same Ollie Trinke who trashed The Fresh Prince. "We admire you. You said what all of us have wanted to say at one time or another, but you're not getting hired." Ollie's former assistant Arthur (Biggs) throws Ollie a lifeline by setting up a legitimate interview at the firm he now works for. Conflict ensues when Ollie's career goals potentially interferes with his daughter's happiness.
Jersey Girl was written and directed with a tender hand by Smith. Smith would later say he was making Jersey Girl as a kidding tribute to family films. Nothing here suggests that. The actors perform the material with rich sincerity and the plotlines develop satisfactorily with some well-earned sentiment thrown in. What puzzles me about Smith sometimes is his inability to stand by his own work. He distances himself from bombs like Mallrats (he apologized for it publicly) and Jersey Girl when he should have embraced them. He made them after all. He should have apologized for Red State. Jersey Girl is his best film. It is a pity that outside forces contributed to people being turned off to it before giving it a chance.