Jersey Girl

Year: 2004
Studio: Miramax
Director: Kevin Smith
Producer: Scott Mosier
Writer: Kevin Smith
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Liv Tyler, Raquel Castro, George Carlin, Jason Biggs, Will Smith, Jennifer Schwalbach

I think I know exactly why this film was met with such indifference. Film fans – including me – took one look at it and thought 'a romantic comedy by the foul mouthed goofball behind the Jay and Silent Bob movies?' He's kidding.

Although most of the comment about it is damning, it isn't the worst reviewed movie ever and didn't flop as completely as many other movies (certainly not the rest of Kevin Smith's body of work). Of course, the tabloid shitstorm of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck's relationship at the time didn't help.

But as I discovered along with millions of others because of his newfound fame in social media, it's worth a look. In fact, it's a close cousin what I think was his most creatively successful film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

Jersey Girl is also about the tenderness and connection you occasionally find in delicate measures amid the profanity, drudgery and chaos of everyday life (albeit with the tenderness more on show and the profanity and chaos less comical – unlike Zack and Miri, Jersey Girl is not a comedy). Because it's a Kevin Smith film there's also a certain rawness a studio would never condone in a PG family film, including a very arresting and pivotal scene of a child and father screaming their frustrations at each other.

It's also peppered throughout with talismans, hallmarks and anchors to his life and interests you see in all his movies – from the New Jersey location where he grew up to the casting of his favourite comedian, George Carlin.

It seems disingenuous for Smith to do a busy-parent-learns-to-appreciate-family film that's been done a million times by Disney et al, but because he's writing from the world he knows and not some Eddie Murphy kids' movie, it works. Ben Affleck is publicist Ollie, who marries the beautiful Gertie (Lopez) and enjoys a high life with her in New York.

But when Gertie dies giving birth to their daughter, Ollie is lost. He moves back with his aging blue collar dad Bart (Carlin) and wants nothing to do with the kid, dumping her on his Dad at every opportunity to carry on his high powered life of fancy premieres and big stars.

When a frustrated offhand comment about Will Smith to a roomful of journalists sees him cast out of the industry he reconnects with his daughter and takes a menial job in his Dad's world. As Gertie grows into the precocious form of Raquel Castro, Ollie is drawn to cute video store clerk Maya (Tyler), but everything's far from perfect and Ollie would do anything to get back to the top, including sidelining his child again.

The structure shouldn't really work – after you think Ollie has become the perfect single dad he starts making moves to abandon Gertie all over again when he gets a chance thanks for a former colleague (Biggs). But somehow the story carries you along. Lopez and Affleck were also the only true professional actors on show as you can see the cracks in all the other performances – including Tyler, who's trying too hard at the sardonic cool girl Smith loves so much.

As for the critical reception, I think there were just too many schmaltzy dramatic conventions for most people, like the last minute dash to be at the kid's school show. If you can look past the flaws it's much better than you've heard.

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