No wheel reinvention, but if it's a nice enough wheel does it really matter?
It seems that loyalty is not a trait to be rewarded in Hollywood, at least if the critical lambasting Kevin Smith has taken for his long awaited sixth outing is anything to go by. Inadvertently caught up in the nuclear winter level fallout of the Bennifer breakup, it's been a while since any movie has been so comprehensively written off before anyone had actually seen it. Sadly it seems that Jersey Girl may be remembered more for the tabloid and critical argy-bargy that surrounded it than the actual images on the celluloid. A pity, as at an absolute worst case it's a competent film, and frankly a rather enjoyable one.
Although admittedly not one that breaks much new ground. Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck) loses his comfortably hectic New York PR hack lifestyle after his beloved young wife (Jenny From The Block) dies during the birth of their daughter Gertie (Raquel Castro). After the stress of a high pressure job combined with the usual nappy changing antics that newborn kiddywinks demand causes him to make an ill-advised outburst against an assembled press and his client The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air (Will Smith), he's slung out of the business and moves back to his father (George Carlin)'s place in New Jersey.
Lightly skipping forward seven years, Ollie finds himself working with his father for Highlands council as a strangely multipurpose labourer, seemingly taking care of everything from snowploughing, garbage collection and water mains inspection. The meat and potatoes of the script deals with the relationship between the three generations of Trinke's, with the obvious focus on Gertie and Ollie. Side salad comes in the form of a budding yet fairly understated, almost pensive romance with psychology undergraduate / video store clerk Randall...sorry, Maya (Liv Tyler), and there's an angst creating pudding in the shape of Ollie's continuing struggle to get back into his old line of business and the city life he misses so much, or at least thinks he does.
All this probably sounds like a movie you've seen before, or even several you've seen before. How much you want to let this affect your judgment of it remains entirely up to yourself, as otherwise Jersey Girl doesn't really do anything to offend you that's not common to the entire genre. Compared to the stiff, largely bland turns we've seen from Affleck recently in Daredevil and Paycheck, this is what he's best at - being an affable bloke, and by most reports before the gutter press turned on him, essentially being himself.
It's not immune from the trips to smaltzy sentimentality, but Smith's script is written sharply in appropriate places and there's more than enough talent between the cast to carry it off as effectively as any of the other family dramas that follow this well worn route. Critical to all of this is the relationship that ties everything together, Ollie and Gertrude an damned if that isn't as charming as any of it's ilk. Raquel Castro proves to be a naturalistic performer without seeming precocious. A vital asset, and more than anything that's why Jersey Girl works.
Not to belittle the fine supporting performances from Tyler and Carlin in particular, much of your opinion on this film will be decided outside of the bounds of the cinema. Given the understandable Affleck fatigue that comes from his seemingly perpetual tabloid inches (oo-er, missus) you might already be sick of the sight of the poor man, and that only partially his fault. For the majority of filmgoers this is about the only strike against it, although you'd never think it having read the bulk of the review of this flick.
Kevin Smith had been a favourite of many a critic partly I suspect because he produced the kind of films they wished they could make themself. Now seeing the wolves howling 'sell out' is a frankly sickening sight. Having created five flicks that were at best of niche appeal to most folks, this move from his indy roots to a more mainstream market is seen as some ultimate act of betrayal for which blood must be spilt and graves danced upon. The question of how this colours their views of Smith's latest work is a rather more loaded question.
Let's see. The dialogue is actually some of Smith's best work. Witty as parts of Clerks and Dogma are, I've always found his dialogue to look better on a page than spoken by actors, never really sounding like something that would never actually be said by anyone I know of. Jersey Girl avoids this, yet still manages to work in some of the best moments of dialogue yet. You really can't argue with a film that works the word 'whoremonger' into a loving conversation between father and son.
A few weeks ago while doing the press rounds for the films U.S. release Smith tried to defend the film by saying that it's not really a critics film, provoking no end of mocking. Having actually seen the film, it's not actually Smith who ought to be ashamed of his comments but the critics who seem to be allowing their misplaced sense of loss to cloud their faculties. Hell, you can't ever accuse Kevin Smith of selling out. Have you even heard of Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back? It's a twenty million dollar exercise in gooning in front of a camera. He can't sell out on that basis alone until he directs Honey, I Shrunk My Kids, Household Pets, Garden Furniture and Selection Of Fine Swedish Cheeses
It might not be particularly fashionable, but I like this film. I'm not even a particularly big Smith fan, but seeing so many lambasting this film based on factors that aren't even close to tangential to the contents of the film galls me. Unless you've a particularly low tolerance for slightly saccharine tinted family comedy dramas, and God knows by this point you ought to have built up an immunity to them, Jersey Girl is perfectly acceptable, nay, rather enjoyable entertainment.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
Ben Affleck (Ollie Trinke)
Jennifer Lopez (Gertrude Steiney)
George Carlin (Bart Trinke)
Liv Tyler (Maya)
Stephen Root (Greenie)
Mike Starr (Block)