Ben Affleck inspires loathing in a lot of people. Still others are sick of his overexposure. Before the screening of Jersey Girl started, some of my fellow critics were trying to outdo each other with cutting remarks about Affleck’s career. If any of this resonates with you, skip Jersey Girl and see something else.
Affleck is overexposed, but in my mind that’s no reason to prejudge any of his movies. So if we can get past the jokes about “Bennifer” and focus on the movie at hand, Jersey Girl is a real charmer from an unlikely source. It was written and directed by Kevin Smith (Dogma, Chasing Amy).
The End of the World
PG-13 for language, sexual content ("on appeal")
The film opens with Bennifer (oops, there I go) — Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez — playing a newly-married power couple. Ollie Trinke (Affleck) is a publicist for a major firm in New York in 1994. His newest account is a rapper-turned-TV actor named Will Smith. Behind closed doors, Ollie doesn’t think Smith is going anywhere, but his assistant Arthur (Jason Biggs) seems to sense Smith’s stardom.
The Trinkes’ lives change, first when Gertie announces that she is pregnant, and again when she dies during labor, leaving Ollie alone to raise his daughter (whom he names for her mother).
Ollie tries to balance his career, his social life, and raising his daughter, but he simply doesn’t have time for it all. At a major press conference, he cracks under the stress and blurts out what we later learn every publicist wishes he could say about his client. Ollie is not only fired, but blacklisted, so he moves back in with his dad (George Carlin) in New Jersey.
It’s a long introduction, but it gives us a chance to get to know Ollie, and how he became a single father, without it feeling too convenient. Simply introducing Ollie as a single father wouldn’t let us understand the pain he went through, both in losing his wife and in losing his career.
Jump ahead 7 years. Little Gertie (Raquel Castro) is precious, precocious, and like many movie children, wise beyond her years. Ollie still hasn’t gotten over Big Gertie’s death. Instead of dating, he rents pornography. Speaking of which, one day at the video store, Ollie meets Maya (Liv Tyler). She’s a clerk, and she also happens to be doing research on human sexuality. She insists on asking this pervert, renting porn with his daughter in tow, embarrassing questions about his masturbatory habits for her research. (Now it sounds like Kevin Smith).
This awkward setup is the start of the romantic comedy that Smith is really making. Contrary to the movie’s heavy trailers, Jersey Girl is mostly a romantic comedy. It’s about finding love and meaning again, after losing it all.
Here the plot stops for a while, as Ollie, Maya, Gertie, and Ollie’s dad settle in to a quiet, simple life together. Little episodes, like Gertie walking in on Ollie and Maya, or taking a trip in to New York, contrast with the power plays and wheeling-dealing of Ollie’s previous life. This part of the movie is sweet, touching and nice.
But the niceness lasts only so long before the plot starts up again.
Ollie feels more like his old self, thanks to the support he’s gotten from Maya and his dad. He decides he wants to get back to work and move back to the city. But to move back to New York, would mean leaving behind Maya and his dad — the very support that allowed him to recover in the first place.
The contrived dilemma gets worse. Ollie’s big business meeting, the one that will that will give him back his old job, is scheduled at exactly the same hour as the daddy-daughter talent show at school. There is no way either appointment can be rescheduled, and if he misses either one, the opportunity will, apparently, never ever come up again. He must choose between his career and his family.
As disappointing as this contrivance is, Kevin Smith mitigates the bad taste by including a chance meeting with none other than Will Smith himself. Like his character in Bagger Vance, Will Smith offers sage advice from a friendly face.
As with all of (Kevin) Smith’s movies Jersey Girl is both good and bad. The pornographic introduction to sweet and naive romance is both awkwardly repulsive and yet unforgettably cinematic. Smith’s obvious writing is balanced by his heart-on-the-sleeve frankness.
As with most of Smith’s movies, there are bound to be two camps surrounding Jersey Girl. One includes the people in my audience who applauded as the credits rolled. The other includes the cynical critics making jokes before the screening.
Pick your camp and stick with it.