A film review by Craig J. Koban
2004, PG-13, 102 mins.
2004, PG-13, 102 mins.
Ollie Trinke: Ben Affleck / Maya: Liv Tyler / Gertie Trinke: Raquel Castro / Bart Trinke: George Carlin / Arthur Brickman: Jason Biggs / Gertrude: Jennifer Lopez
Written and directed by Kevin Smith
is the sixth film by New Jersey writer/director Kevin Smith and it also
represents his finest two hours. What
may surprise you with this small little gem of a romantic comedy is not so much
how great it is, but moreover what a refreshing and wonderful change of pace
this is for Smith. Genre fans of
his work may be apprehensive about this film and, quite frankly, it could turn
many of them off.
be told, there is no Jay and Silent Bob in this, no jokes or humor at the
expense of bodily functions, and… hell…not even one “snootchie-bootchie.”
Sure, the film is still fairly vulgar (there are many expletives, but no
where near the number of 4 or 12 letter variations of that all-too-famous
“f” word Smith uses with wit and scatological charm in his earlier work).
Sure, there is still some pop culture commentary and references, although
not nearly as many. Sure, some of
his regulars appear briefly in cameos (especially two very famous Smith
thespians, in a very funny scene). And
yes, Smith purists out there, he even manages one small and subtle
reference that was also laced into his previous work.
JERSEY GIRL represents anything, it shows a genuinely maturing filmmaker
who is reaching the top of his game by also demonstrating his broad range and
wholesome, honest, and sensitive dedication to his characters and story.
tells the story of a cocky and selfish Manhattan music publicist named Ollie
Trinke (played by the “always reliable in Smith Films” Ben Affleck) and his
wife Gertrude (played by, yes…the second half of the entity know as Bennifer…Jennifer
Lopez). They have a relationship
that eventually leads to Lopez being with child.
Unlike GIGLI, Affleck and Lopez have some wonderful chemistry here
and the few good scenes they do have are ripe with the terrifically inventive
dialogue that makes all Smith films stand out.
I especially liked Affleck trying to make Lopez feel better when she is
feeling ugly while pregnant (“You don’t want to look like the models at the
party, honey, they are Coked-up whores,” Affleck deadpans).
I said “few” scenes because
J-Lo dies while giving birth
to their newborn daughter. This
scene would have been so much more powerful if the media had not spoiled the
plot point several months back, in some sort of effort to cry out and say,
“Don’t worry, not another GIGLI on our hands…she dies in the first
15 minutes!” Yet, she is so winning and likable in her few scenes with
Affleck, I nevertheless had a strong emotional reaction to her death, and it
provides the plot with a chance to take a strong and sharp turn.
life goes to pieces, he eventually loses his job, and is forced to take his
newborn baby and live with his alcoholic, yet very loving father played very,
very effectively by comedian George Carlin.
This is where the film really starts to take off, as the completely
hopeless and useless Affleck tries very unsuccessfully to nurse his baby, often
with the invaluable help of Carlin.
film flash-forwards seven years and we see the baby grow up.
She is played as a child by a wonderful new find named Rachel Castro, who
has so much life, so much energy, and so much charm and charisma that she
completely holds her own to the other cast.
She is not just another cute kid in a film that makes all of the semi-obligatory
punchlines to other character’s jokes. She
is a fully realized character whom is allowed to think, speak freely and be a
completely three-dimensional character. Her scenes with Affleck are the emotional cornerstones of the
film, and their natural chemistry is handled well.
eventually meets a grad student who moonlights as a video store clerk, who is
played very humorously by Liv Tyler. As
with his 1997 film
CHASING AMY, Smith demonstrates again here how he does
not allow himself to be a slave towards romantic comedy clichés.
He breaks free of these restraints and allows the relationship between
Affleck and Tyler to develop naturally. It’s
not an instant “meet-cute”, and it is actually Tyler who plays the romantic
aggressor at first. They realize
that they are meant to be friends first and, well, maybe lovers in the future. They like each other, but Smith respects the characters and
the dialogue between the two and he shows what a master he is at colloquial, yet
colorful conversations. They
don’t have useless exchanges that only serve the function of advancing the
plot from point A to B. They talk
about things and about things candidly. The
sexual frankness of the exchanges that made CHASING AMY so refreshing is
also here as well.
one thing that was a real delight was the uniformly good performances by the
entire cast. Mention has already
been made about the unrelenting cuteness and charm of Castro, but for me the
real standout was Affleck. Affleck
plays vulnerable men better that anyone. One
critic slammed the film because Affleck “cries” too much in it and has too
many tender scenes. Excuse me?
Since when is it a norm or a standard for Affleck (or any male actor) to
play tough and rugged all the time? Affleck
is a completely realized person here, and Smith knows just how to handle him.
Ollie is smarmy, insensitive, lethargic, and emotionally distant at times
and seems only to care about his career. Yet,
he is also capable of being loving, caring, frank, and charming.
Affleck has rarely been better than here, especially in one emotionally
charged scene where he hastily screams to his daughter that her birth wrecked
his life (I felt a tingle down my skin and a lump in my throat during that
most surprisingly effective performance was by good old’ George Carlin. He really stretches his acting chops as well.
I love how Smith plays an even hand to all of the characters.
Sure, Carlin is there for some extra comic relief, but he too is a
developed character who despite his alcoholism, is a wonderful family man who
always steps in to father both his son and grandchild.
There is one incredibly tender and touching moment at the end of the film
where Carlin is faced with the prospect of Affleck and his child leaving him.
The scene is so wonderfully underplayed by Carlin with just a few sparse
words and his eyes that it screamed out, heaven help me, Oscar.
was just a pure delight. It was funny in all the right places and as emotional
as any film I have seen this year. It’s
a film that has a wonderful balancing act between comedy and drama.
The writing was top-notch and all of the performances were of the perfect
pitch. I still find it amazing that
the man behind the indie-sensation
CLERKS, the religiously ambivalent, yet
spiritually faithful and insightful DOGMA, the sexually frank yet tender
and sensitive CHASING AMY, and the self-satire/parody JAY AND SILENT
BOB STRIKE BACK crafted such a terrific mainstream entertainment in JERSEY
GIRL. Kevin Smith is not going “soft” with this romantic
comedy, nor is he “selling out” to big budget, Hollywood conventions.
Rather, he’s doing what all great filmmakers do:
They expand their horizons, go to areas they have not occupied, and
succeed by broadening their artistic range.
Jersey Girl represents the best film of Smith’s career and
highlights him as a unique voice that is only getting better.
to the nootch.