Jersey Girl Review
If your tolerance to sugar in films is low, then you might want to stop reading now. Jersey Girl has a higher sugar content than an imported Easter Egg and if you're not prepared to tolerate the immense levels of saccharine that Kevin Smith has pumped into this movie, you won't be entertained and might feel slightly sick throughout. For everyone else, though, there's a very enjoyable film buried here somewhere.
The paper thin plot centers around one Ollie Tinke (Ben Affleck) and his relationship with his daughter, Gertrude (Raquel Castro). Ollie was once a very successful New York music publicist, but now lives with his father, Bart (George Carlin) in the relative suburbia of New Jersey and works in sewage. Deep down, Tinke yearns to return to the life he knew before he moved to New Jersey and this provides the film with its central conflict. Will Ollie realise how perfect his life is, or throw it all away and return to the bright lights of the big city? It's by no means original; this has been a standard plot since movies began, but Smith handles the somewhat hackneyed plot with some verve and there's some quite clever little touches throughout. Smith is no hack, and is looking more and more like a director to be reckoned with, and someday could make a really excellent film. He has not made it yet, and this is not it, but keep watching him.
The trouble is, as mentioned earlier, that sugar content. There's a scene towards the middle of the film were Tinke is called upon to use his old PR skills to persuade a group of angry citizens that it is necessary to close a road for three days. This scene is crying out for excellent dialogue, which Smith is certainly capable of producing, but instead he chooses to use a rousing soundtrack playing over shots of Ollie wringing his hands and winning the crowd over. It could have been a great scene, but simply falls flat. Proof, though, that Smith is capable of great things comes in a scene that concerns itself with a school play in which Gertrude is playing a central role. It's riddled with cliché, of course, and you can see what's going to happen from miles away, but Smith manages to create just the right balance of dark humour riddled with unashamed sentiment that it simply works and is without doubt the best scene in the film. The whole sequence is immaculately shot, and slowly builds to a wonderful climax. If you don't suddenly 'get something in your eye', you have a heart of solid stone and have wasted your admission fee.
Not that there aren’t other problems with the film. It doesn’t really hang together that well, and at least one of the main resolutions, when it comes, seems forced and doesn’t quite work as well in cinematic terms as it probably did on paper. It concerns a number of loose plot elements suddenly taking on larger significances, but it doesn't really pan out that well at all. It's all forgivable, though, as this is not a plot driven film; the plot exists merely to create situations and Smith fans will not be surprised to note that one of the film's enormous strengths is the dialogue, which, for the most part, simply crackles along.
Performances in the film are superb. Raquel Castro is outstanding as the seven year old Gert, and never overplays the cuteness card; Well, once or twice perhaps, but she is so cute you can't help but forgive her. Carlin is also excellent as Ollie's staunchly working class father and his performance is worth seeing the film for alone. One of Smith's strengths is his ability to create fully rounded characters from very little, and this film is full of those sorts of characters. As for Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler, well, they are actors that carry a lot of baggage and if you enter the cinema hating them, then this film will not change your mind. They give excellent performances though, and this role is perfect for Affleck, especially in the scenes where he is supposed to be the big city shit.
The one section of the audience which will not enjoy the film in the slightest are those who would claim to be Smith's biggest fans. You know, the ones who won't accept he wants to move on and leave those two characters that shall not be named alone for once. Yes, the older films were mostly great, but this is different; this is simply a well above average romantic comedy with an excellent script and a few cultural references thrown in. If you go with that in mind, and not hoping that those two will appear from somewhere and 'save' the movie a la Chasing Amy, you will be disappointed, and rightly so.
If you're not too sure what that last paragraph was all about, then you should probably watch more films, and you won't do yourself any harm by seeing this one first. It won't be anyone's favorite film by a long shot, and won't stand up to repeat viewings, but will provide a couple of belly laughs and a couple of hours solid entertainment. It is very sentimental, and occasionally overdoses on its own high sugar content, but if you see it with this in mind you will do well. It goes without saying it’s almost the perfect date movie, but be warned - if you are male, you may well be questioned about your porn viewing habits when it’s over…