Jersey Girl
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Kevin Smith
with Ben Affleck, Raquel Castro, Liv Tyler, George Carlin, Jason Biggs, Jennifer Lopez, Mike Starr, Stephen Root, Matthew Cloran, Will Smith, Jason Lee, Matt Damon
release US 26.Mar.04, UK 18.Jun.04
04/US 1h42

Father's little dividend: Affleck and Castro

tyler biggs lopez

Jersey Girl

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Kevin Smith takes a sharp turn from his edgy, knowing goofiness with this surprisingly slushy drama. It retains much of the astute, irreverent dialog we've grown to expect, and it features one of Affleck's best-ever performances. But once the plot kicks in, it simply stops dead in its tracks.

Ollie (Affleck) is a high-powered Manhattan publicist whose life is shattered when his wife (Lopez) dies in childbirth and he finds it impossible to juggle both career and fatherhood. So he moves in with his father (Carlin) in New Jersey, and seven years later the two men and Gertie (Castro) make a happy little family. But Ollie won't give up on his career. The question is: Will anyone have him back after a rather spectacular fall from grace? Then he starts to fall for a quirky girl (Tyler) at the local video shop. And Gertie tells him she doesn't want to leave Jersey.

Until Tyler's appearance, this is a tight and compelling examination of how life can change in an instant ... and how efficient humans are at adapting to whatever comes along. The film's collapse at this point isn't Tyler's fault (she's wacky and charming); the problem is that the trite plot takes over. What is essentially a sophisticated and mature look at dawning reality becomes a clumsily contrived Hollywood rom-com pitting big city aggressiveness against down-home family values. Duh, I wonder which one wins?

At least the performances are strong enough to carry us through to the sweet and tidy finale. Affeck returns to his more introspective, soulful style (see Good Will Hunting and Chasing Amy), nicely balancing the serious undertone with Smith's jaggedly hilarious dialog. He works well opposite the precociously gifted Castro and the gruff, plain-talking Carlin. Meanwhile, Smith directs the film with a polish we haven't seen in his work before. Alas, the plot is far too slick as well, using one cornball set piece after another until by the end we give up on the story's overflow of cliches and gooey sentiment. Because we grow to like the characters, we're willing to hang on to the end, but only to hear what they'll say. By then we couldn't care less what they do.

cert 12 themes, language, vulgarity 12.Apr.04

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2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall