December 28, 2004
Ever since Kevin Smith made Clerks (1994), he has been threatening to make a PG-rated, mainstream audience-friendly movie that his folks could actually go and see. Jersey Girl was his attempt. The question remained, would he soften the edges of his trademark profanity-laden dialogue too much and lose the bulk of his fan base? Smith also had the misfortune of casting Ben Affleck and then girlfriend Jennifer Lopez after the whole Gigli (2003) fiasco. Any film with the two of them together was doomed to failure no matter how much her presence was downplayed and cut from the movie. Has Smith strayed too far from the familiar confines of his View Askew universe?
Ollie Trinke (Affleck) is a successful New York music publicist with the perfect life. He’s got a beautiful girlfriend (Lopez) and a great apartment on the Upper West Side with a baby on the way. His whole life changes when she dies giving birth to their baby girl. This sends him into a downward spiral and he gets spectacularly fired from his job. Ollie moves back in with his dad (Carlin) in the suburbs of New Jersey to raise his child. By the time his little girl, Gertie (Castro), turns seven, Ollie meets a sexy video store clerk (Tyler) and his life takes a turn for the better.
This is the best looking Kevin Smith film to date and this is due in large part to the presence of legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond who has worked with legendary filmmakers like Robert Altman, John Boorman and Michael Cimino. The lighting and composition of each and every frame is excellent—it is even shot in a widescreen aspect ratio!
Ben Affleck is good as a single dad who learns about responsibility. As he showed in other Smith films, Affleck has a real capacity for comedy and the director really brings this out in him. The actor has excellent comic timing which no other filmmaker has taken advantage of as well as Smith does in his movies. As a result, Affleck delivers his strongest and most heartfelt performance since Chasing Amy (1997).
Despite the unrealistic casting of the stunning Liv Tyler as Maya, the grad student slumming it as a video store clerk, she has genuine chemistry with Affleck. Tyler is adorable without being too cutesy about it and portrays Maya as a smart and clever person. Smith’s screenplay wisely takes the time to develop the romance between Ollie and Maya in a convincing and believable fashion. Smith adheres to the conventions of the romantic comedy but does so in a pleasing and entertaining way.
There is an audio commentary by Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck that is relaxed and conversational in tone as the two long-time friends joke and laugh with each other. Smith is always an entertaining speaker and addresses, at length, the bad press that he and the film received from the UK tabloids. This track is refreshingly free of the usual self-congratulatory backslapping that often plagues commentaries.
A second commentary features Smith, producer Scott Mosier and View Askew veteran actor, Jason Mewes. This is a more production-based track as Smith and Mosier talk about how the film was made—the camerawork, lighting, etc. In a surprising bit of candor, Mewes talks about his drug problems that kept him out of Jersey Girl (he was supposed to play Jason Biggs’ role). This is a good track but not as fun as the one with Affleck.
If you didn’t get enough of Smith-Affleck banter on their commentary track then you’re in for a real treat with the “Ben Affleck and Kevin Smith Interview.” They talk about their working and personal relationship since they met on Mallrats (1995). Affleck and Smith also talk about how they’ve remained loyal friends over the years and this is obvious from the way they playfully make fun of each other.
“The Tonight Show’s ‘Roadside Attractions’ Featuring Kevin Smith” is a series of “humourous travelogues” that Smith started doing for Jay Leno after 9/11. Smith travels across the country visiting unusual tourist spots, like the world’s smallest church in New York or the giant shoe museum in Seattle. These segments work so well because of Smith’s smart-ass sense of humour.
Finally, there is a standard behind-the-scenes featurette. Smith talks about how Jersey Girl is closer in attitude to Chasing Amy than the goofy mayhem of Mallrats. Jersey Girl came from his personal experiences of getting married and having a kid. There are a lot of clips from the movie mixed with sound bites from the cast.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) saw Kevin Smith veering very close to becoming a caricature of himself. Jersey Girl sees him return to his strengths of character-driven material like Chasing Amy where the dialogue was realistic and heartfelt. What makes this film work so well is the same reason why Clerks and Amy work and resonate—to paraphrase Holden at the end of the latter film, Smith finally had something personal to say.