Jersey Girl (2004) / Drama-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, sexual content and frank dialogue (originally rated R but decreased to PG-13 on appeal)
Running Time:102 min.
Cast: Ben Affleck, Raquel Castro, George Carlin, Liv Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, Jason Biggs, Stephen Root, Mike Starr, Will Smith
Director: Kevin Smith
Screenplay: Kevin Smith
Jersey Girl sees a new, more mature Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy), both as a writer and director, but as he makes the transition from funny to serious filmmaker, there appears to be some growing pains involved in his journey into unknown territories. This time there aren't his usual crutches, the mainstays that helped him get big laughs when things progressed off the beaten track -- no Jay, no Silent Bob, no gay jokes, no pot gags, and for the most part, few penis and poop gags. What is left is a freshness in his characterizations and observations, and in the end, Jersey Girl does manage to succeed on its own terms as a heartwarming parallel tale of man coming to terms with maturity on his own.
Ben Affleck (Paycheck, Gigli) plays Ollie, a hotshot New York City publicist who is on the fast track to success, bless with a beautiful wife (Lopez, Maid in Manhattan) and a baby on the way. Tragedy strikes when his wife dies on delivery of their daughter, Gertie (Castro), leaving Ollie in a reluctant situation of being an only father while trying to move further in his career. Cracking under the pressure of the situation, Ollie lashes out at the media, the hand that feeds him, and finds himself without a job and nowhere to go but back to his father's (Carlin, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) house. Seven years later and he Ollie still finds himself living with his father and his young daughter, with dreams of the life he could have had still haunting him.
Although there are some racy moments, Jersey Girl is the tamest Kevin Smith film to date, and being a seriocomic drama, it has the least amount of funny moments. There are a few scenes that are played strictly for laughs, such as when Affleck tries to rent a porno without his precocious daughter finding out, but somehow these scenes come off as desperate and phony within the context of the more somber material. In many ways, Smith wants to have his cake and eat it too, trying to make a poignant drama about fatherhood, while also digging down to some of the usual bag of tricks for the big laugh. Surprisingly, Smith's film scores more points through the supporting ensemble, Ollie's father and daughter, than in the romance between Ollie and would-be girlfriend Maya (Tyler, The Return of the King) or from Ollie's struggles to accept responsibility. It's a very hit-and-miss endeavor, but Smith does pull off enough right notes at the right times to make it gel in the end.
The acting is a bit rough, especially with Affleck trying to be alternately funny and serious during many scenes, but two performances do manage to make the film more interesting. Raquel Castro does have some of the typical movie-kid qualities to her (i.e. smarter than most adults and super-cute), but she performs it with such enthusiasm that you almost feel that she is behaving as she really is in life. Liv Tyler also shows much more charisma than in her previous films, no longer the quiet beauty, playing a geeky but very forward college student with an eye for Ollie's affection. Most of the scenes that work have these two characters in it, and just enough of them appear to ultimately make Smith's film worthwhile for an occasionally endearing drama.
While I would like for Smith to grow as a filmmaker, I also miss the Kevin Smith of old. If Smith can harness his talent for funny dialogue into something more subtle, perhaps he will ultimately be the fine filmmaker he aspires to be. Until then, I suspect we will have to forgive his indulgences for humor's sake and enjoy Smith's films for the parts he does well, rather than expect him to deliver consistent quality from beginning to end.
©2004 Vince Leo