Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Kevin Smith Tries Some New Askew Plots . . . With Success In Jersey Girl

The Good: Funny, Sweet, Good characters, Good acting
The Bad: Predictable plot, Kevin Smith's lack of trust in his audience
The Basics: If Kevin Smith re-integrates deleted scenes into this comedy about a family on the verge of rebirth, Jersey Girl will be a work that will endure far longer.

In his first five films and single cartoon series, Kevin Smith created a universe that is immediately recognizable to fans of his work. It is in his mythical New Jersey that a drug dealer named Jay and his hetero- lifemate Silent Bob encountered obstacles ranging from mall security guards to demons bent on destroying the universe. Smith returns his fans now to a different section of his universe in Jersey Girl, though he is playing with many of his same core of actors.

Ollie Trinke is a publicist for the stars and he tends to be a workaholic. His wife, Gertrude, is very much in love with him, though when she becomes pregnant, they find some strain on their relationship, mostly to do with the amount he works. Gertrude dies in childbirth, leaving Ollie to raise her namesake Gertie. Gertie is a handful for him, leading him to a public relations mishap that gets him fired. Years later, Ollie and Gertie are still living with Ollie's father Bart in New Jersey and they are happy. Ollie, however, still pines for New York City and the life he left behind there. When he meets a charming video store clerk, Maya, who is clearly interested in him, his priorities begin to change and he needs to decide to return to the life he once knew or adapt to all of the changes that Gertie and Maya bring into his life.

First of all, I am a big fan of Smith's other outings and I like the View Askew Universe. Thus, I was looking forward to Jersey Girl from pretty much the first moment I heard about it. Unlike the many many fans who are likely to spend great time and verbiage complaining about Jersey Girl's lack of known View Askew Universe residents (notably Jay and Silent Bob), I resist such tendencies because Smith deserves his chance to explore and expand that universe (there's nothing to stop him from returning and/or integrating characters he creates now and in the future in future works).

But the fact is, I have a serious beef about Kevin Smith in regards to Jersey Girl. As many who heard about this movie knew, Ollie is played by actor Ben Affleck and Gertrude was played by actress Jennifer Lopez. The older this review becomes, the more this explicit statement will become necessary: Jersey Girl was shot while Affleck and Lopez shared an off-camera romantic relationship. In his filming diaries of Jersey Girl, Smith repeatedly remarked about how in love the two of them were and how their chemistry was amazing on film and how much life they brought to the movie.

Days before Jersey Girl was released in the theaters, Smith let it be known on his website that a good deal of the beginning of the movie - with Ollie and Gertrude in love - was being cut. He specifically cited the wedding between them hitting the cutting room floor and his given reason for the cut was that he did not want people who saw the movie to see Affleck and Lopez getting married and become confused about them being together (by the point the movie was released, their romantic relationship had been terminated).

My beef with Kevin Smith is this: he insults the intelligence of his audience and I am one of those people. Smith's lame remark was that because Affleck and Lopez came close to marrying, but did not, seeing them playing characters that got married would make the audience confused thinking that the actors had married. Please. What a ridiculous notion and what a waste of truly meaningful footage. There is a lack in Jersey Girl and it comes where the wedding should have been. Ollie and Gertrude go from courting to rather pregnant with wedding rings without the passion of something like a wedding to make explicit that there has been that deepening of their love.

Smith underestimates the power of his own work; Ollie, from the moment he appears on the screen, is quite clearly not Ben Affleck. Yes, Ben Affleck plays him, but they are not the same person. Actors play characters and Smith has cast perfectly, allowing Affleck to become Ollie the way Lopez becomes Gertrude. As a result, Smith instantly brings us into a world where two people are in love and encountering the very real stresses that come with juggling hectic work schedules. And if Kevin Smith had another reason for cutting the footage (i.e. one of the actors asking him to, because it was too painful for them to watch), fine, but he could have either been honest about it or come up with a better lie.

Smith's storytelling ability is wonderful here, as he takes the classic relationship story that he has been retelling since Clerks and puts yet another spin on it. And it works. More intelligent than just about any other romantic comedy, Jersey Girl goes into daring territory for Smith, illustrating a relationship seldom given focus in romantic comedies as the story revolves around Ollie and Gertie. The father/daughter dynamic and how it changes when another woman enters the picture is impressively explored here.

Indeed, because the plot is relatively simple, Smith is forced to flesh out his characters to an extent that he has not had to since Chasing Amy. Ironically, Jersey Girl is set up to be Gertie's story (from its title and the opening shots), yet it is Ollie's story. Ollie and his relationships with Gertie, Bart, Maya and his coworkers is what Jersey Girl is all about.

It is Ollie that moves much of the movie and he is a likable character who is instantly empathetic. Unlike Holden McNeil from Chasing Amy, who is empathetic up until he draws the worst possible conclusion from the data given to him, Ollie Trinke reacts emotively with a very real array of issues in all of his relationships. As a result, we often feel like he is a pinball moving between the different relationships in his life because he is emotively in limbo or (from the middle of the film onward) is finding his emotive center - his love for his daughter - set off balance.

Ben Affleck gives a great performance that Kevin Smith does not give justice to in assuming that people watching him will see Affleck instead of Ollie. Moreover, Affleck is given a chance to show more of his range from his action hero and whiny man types that have defined so many of his movies. This is quite possible Affleck's most accessible performance and the one that is easiest for the widest audience to relate to.

Similarly, Liv Tyler does an amazing job of defining Maya through her body language and soft voice. Tyler appears on screen shattering our perceptions of her as an elf (from her The Lord Of The Rings role) and instantly establishes herself as someone who has a sense of comic timing and real zest to her. Jennifer Lopez is decent in the few scenes we see her in and George Carlin gives a surprisingly dramatic performance as Bart.

The real surprise is Raquel Castro, who plays Gertie. Castro approaches the role with a surprising amount of maturity and depth that I have not seen in a child actor since Dakota Fanning in I Am Sam (reviewed here!). Castro, however, has a wonderful sense of a child's comic timing and she uses it in contrast to adult-like renderings of her dramatic lines that makes her character come alive.

Kevin Smith takes a chance in making a family comedy about a widower, his daughter, and the woman who enters the picture to affect their family and it's a bold, wonderful step in the growth of his storytelling ability. Hopefully, as the film hits DVD, he will have the courage to tell the story that will endure and let the tabloids fade into the past.

For other movies by Kevin Smith, please visit my reviews of:
Chasing Amy
Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back
Clerks II
Zack And Miri Make A Porno
Cop Out
Red State


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for a complete listing of all the movies I have reviewed.

© 2012, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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  1. Great review! I loved this movie and find it nice to read a review from someone who gets the movie and enjoyed it as much as I did. Hopefully they do release this much talked about re-edit of Jersey Girl on DVD/Blu-Ray with those scenes put back in!

  2. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the review!