Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 31, 2004 6:11 pm 
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[Review published on CineScene]

Jersey Girl might be seen as a touching new sign of maturity from the irreverent lapsed Catholic Kevin Smith, whose potty-mouthed, quick-thinking convenience store denizens charmed and teased us in the low budget Clerks. Here he does indeed deal with grown up problems. A high-powered New York publicist, Ollie Trinke, who happens to be Ben Affleck, has his wife (who happens to be Jennifer Lopez) die in childbirth. He falls apart, moves in with his working class dad (George Carlin, very convincing here though he hasn’t a great deal to do), and after getting kicked out of the business by insulting Will Smith and a crowd of journalists waiting to meet him (a far fetched idea), he spends the next seven years reluctantly taking over the raising of his daughter in New Jersey and doing municipal laborer jobs arranged by his dad like digging trenches and collecting garbage, till the daughter grows up into a Latina version of Shirley Temple (Raquel Castro), he meets Liv Tyler in a video store, and after wavering a bit, gives up a chance to go back to the New York publicist world in favor of sticking with his life in New Jersey.

Well, these are grown up problems, all right, and Smith’s directness and frank language come in handy in talking to young kids about sex and describing the nitty gritty of baby care. But killing off the wife in the first quarter of an hour is blatant tear-jerker stuff, and the movie has the gloss and facile thinking of a mindless Hollywood romantic comedy without the wit. There are some good moments, but also some dreadfully corny ones. Smith indulges his taste for celebrity cameos (as if JayLo and Affleck themselves weren’t celebs) by having a scene where Affleck’s character runs into the real Will Smith and Smith says he only makes blockbusters to be able to spend more time with the wife and kids. But that’s hokum: Will still makes the blockbusters. He doesn’t collect garbage in New Jersey. The movie’s resolution is completely specious. “Forget about who you thought you were, and just accept who you are,” the tagline goes. Bosh! There’s no reason to believe that a guy with Ollie Trinke’s pizzaz wouldn’t feel stifled in New Jersey. This resolution is a surefire formula for frustration and revolt five or ten years down the line. The family & home vs. career & ambition choice isn’t one anybody really has to make. The grown up problem is how to manage doing both.

The reason why it’s hard to see this as a viable change of direction for Kevin Smith is that the writing just isn’t very good. Go back to Clerks and listen to that dialogue. It sparkles, it surprises, it cracks you up. Jay and Silent Bob are absent from Jersey Girl. Smith hasn’t made up for the lack of them.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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