Ben Affleck and Raquel Castro in Jersey Girl (2004)


(director/writer/editor: Kevin Smith; cinematographer: Vilmos Zsigmond; editor: Scott Mosier; music: James Venable; cast: Ben Affleck (Ollie Trinke), Liv Tyler (Maya), George Carlin (Bart Trinke), Stephen Root (Greennie), Mike Starr (Block), Raquel Castro (Gertie Trinke), Jason Biggs (Arthur), Jennifer Lopez (Gertrude Trinke), Will Smith (Himself); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Scott Mosier; Miramax Films; 2004)

“A more unbearable film than Gigli.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s hard to believe, but Jersey Girl (a title stolen from a Bruce Springsteen tune) proves to be for the Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez team a more unbearable film than Gigli–a fiasco of major proportions. Though for Ben, those flicks where he saves the world still hit a lower note than this Jersey Girl role as a single parent dealing with dirty diapers.

Kevin Smith (“Clerks”/”Mallrats”/”Chasing Amy”) sinks lower than a gopher to direct this run-of-the-mill mainstream sitcom, in his long climb downward into the hole of mediocrity. This ‘gem’ is so icky and transparent that, perhaps, it’s possible that even the most gullible sitcom fan should be able to see through it as being disingenuous. The presence of Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein as Smith’s godfather might have been a lucrative career move (he went from grossing 12 million a film to 30-50 million under his film dad’s marketing campaign and control), but artistically it hasn’t worked–and it might be time to cut the umbilical cord. Smith has no more punch left in his films. This one seems like a vehicle for a 1950s dullsville TV sitcom.

The film is told through the eyes of the seven-year-old cutie-pie Gertie (Raquel Castro). In the opening scene she reads an essay to her first grade parochial school class about her family and there’s a flashback to 1994 and her workaholic Manhattanite father Ollie (Ben Affleck), who is a top musical publicist for a major Big Apple firm. He’s in love with himself, his job, and his book editor wife Gertie (Jennifer Lopez). But he loses his wife during childbirth and is left to raise the surviving infant daughter on his own. Being a selfish cad, he dumps the infant Gertie onto his widowed New Jersey street sweeper dad Bart (George Carlin). Dad hangs out with his two blue-collar buddies from Highlands, Block (Mike Starr) and Greennie (Stephen Root), where they guzzle beer at the local Clamdiggers Bar and relax shooting the breeze with some dull shop-talk. Ollie has no time for the baby while he works day and night as a high-powered publicist, and foists the infant on dad to do all the dirty work. But dad zaps him after a few months of this bullshit and tells him to be a real dad, handing him the baby just before he goes to work.

Stuck with no one to mind the child and still emotionally distraught over his loss, the out-of-control Ollie carts Gertie to a major press event for newcomer singer Will Smith — soon to become a superstar. When Smith fails to show, Ollie gets the blame and screws up by insulting his client and everyone in the press. He gets fired and returns to live permanently for the next seven years in New Jersey with his dad, as his reputation becomes so tarnished he can’t find another gig in the industry he loves more than anything else. The comedy, if you can call anything in this film comedy, is Ollie working alongside pop as a maintenance man and learning how be a real dad and a better human being.

The speeches given by Ben after each lesson learned is enough to melt your heart in kitsch. As one would expect, a romantic interest is tossed Ben’s way. It comes in the form of usable grad student-video store clerk Maya (Liv Tyler). The bland Maya goes as far as getting into the shower with Ben in her offer to provide him with some mercy sex to relieve him of his celibacy vows after his wife’s death, but before this romantic arc is further developed into a love affair it is abandoned for more Ben motivational speeches about why raising a girl as a single dad is more important than ever working again in Manhattan for a major PR firm. That story touched me about as much as did the TV pictures released of Saddam Hussein living in a spider hole before his capture.

Kevin Smith still seems to be a long way off from becoming more than a recorder of trash-talking suburban slackers. Jersey Girl does not convince me that in his new mature PG-13 filmmaking approach, he can make a film saying something more substantial and earnest and meaningful. This one not only lacked an edge, but it also lacked any genuine feelings or believability.