Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Raquel Castro, George Carlin, Jason Biggs, Stephen Root, Mike Starr, Jennifer Lopez
PG-13 (For appeal for language and sexual content including frank dialogue)
A New York publicist loses the life he once knew and must rebuild from the ground up with only his daughter and his father to assist in Kevin Smith’s latest feature Jersey Girl.
Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck) used to work for a publicity agency representing clients like Will Smith. After the death of his wife Gertrude (Jennifer Lopez) in childbirth, he must contend with being a single father. When he snaps at a feverish group of reporters, the mistake costs him his job and everything about the life he once loved. The only tie he has is his daughter Gertie (Raquel Castro) whose only memory of her mother is a worn picture attached to her crib-side mobile.
While living with his father Bart (George Carlin), Ollie meets Maya (Liv Tyler), a young clerk at a local video store who catches him trying to rent mistakenly-obtained bi-sexual porn and inquires into his sex life for a graduate paper she’s working on. This starts an intriguing relationship between the two that must overcome his attachment to his past.
Writer and director Kevin Smith has tackled teen angst and religion with previous films like Chasing Amy and Dogma. Jersey Girl is his first foray into romantic comedy. This film takes on a touch of formula to achieve its goals while blending in unique elements, including a strange tribute to the musical Sweeney Todd.
Affleck and Tyler develop a chemistry of tremendous power. They are immensely likable in their roles and make the audience adore their relationship. These two talents are seldom upstaged by the surprisingly relaxed Carlin. The true star of this film, however, is young Castro. She shows up her costars with one of the most charming juvenile performances captured on film. She’s charismatic, cheeky, classy and confident, all qualities that actresses with twice her experience cannot capture. If her career is half as successful as those of similarly talented kids Christina Ricci and Kirsten Dunst, she’ll be quite the sensation.
The moral of Smith’s outrageous story is to take your experiences of the past and let them assist you in determining your future not let them control it. Ollie looks back longingly at his past and allows it to take control of his life, nearly destroying his happiness. With the wisdom of his daughter acting as a catalyst for his change, Ollie discovers that he can’t let his own ambition ruin his family.
The film’s only weakness is in its formula. Like many other comedies of its kind, Jersey Girl moves through familiar scenes with stereotypical themes. We have the frantic dash to make a special event with the literal and figurative roadblocks, the emotional breakdown leading to greater self-awareness and the little kid who spouts copious wise observations. The thing is: Smith makes it work. The audience never feels like they’re being cheated out of great entertainment. The situations feel real and unobtrusive. In this movie, it’s the meaning that’s important, not the execution.
Jersey Girl will charm the audience. It’s a smart, funny and touching look at a single father’s journey through self-discovery and his family’s challenge of bringing him back from the edge.
April 8, 2004