JERSEY GIRL got kicked to the curb when it first came out, and maybe part of the rancor is because the film was perceived as a departure for writer/director Kevin Smith; his fans maybe were jonesing for yet more Jay and Silent Bob slacker hijinks. Instead JERSEY GIRL unfolds as an unabashedly sentimental family film. And then there was also some of that "Bennifer" backlash still being slung around. And the festering ghost of GIGLI. Having said that, you've gotta be some kind of hard core cynic to not be swayed even a little by this film. Kevin Smith went for the touchy feely stuff, and it worked, worked for me, anyway.
Jennifer Lopez is around for the film's first thirteen minutes, time enough for her to establish her character as the love of Oliver Trinke's life. She dies giving birth to their baby, Gertie. As Oliver, Ben Affleck sort of channels the 1980s Tom Cruise. He starts out as this happening, work-obsessed executive in the music industry, and he is an asshat of the first order. Ollie's life alters drastically with the passing of his wife, the birth of his daughter, the loss of his career in the fast lane (thanks, Fresh Prince). He moves back in with his blue-collar dad (George Carlin) in Jersey and joins him as part of the city's public works department.
Kevin Smith, when not doling out the frat boy humor, is pretty skilled at pushing that emotional button. He certainly did it in CHASING AMY and, here, he throws in the warm and the heartfelt, and yes it is just a bit mawkish. But I bought into it, and I'm not even a fan of Affleck. But he convinces me, his character after seven years still grieving for his dead wife, his utter devotion to his daughter Gertie. It helps that the kid is played so sweetly by Raquel Castro who makes her film debut and instantly lights up the screen. Castro and Affleck play off so well against each other that it's startling to learn (in Smith and Affleck's audio commentary) that she and Ben simply had no chemistry for the first few days of filming. Apparently, Raquel was wishing that, in the script, Ben had been the one to die during childbirth so she could act with JLo instead. The kid got over it.
Kevin Smith plonks in three love stories. There is Carlin and Affleck's father-son relationship, and Affleck and Liv Tyler's growing romance, and Liv, by the way, is really good as the sexy but goofy video store clerk. But the central thread is clearly the father-daughter relationship, and these two actors' interactions really strike a chord. The conflict - because I did say that Affleck was channeling Cruise ala 1980s - rises from Ollie Trinke still hankering for his former slick big city smooth operator ways, except how does he balance that yearning with his role as a father who truly adores his seven-year-old? The acting is good, so the predictability of the story and bits of heavy-handed moments don't drag things too badly. I even liked Kevin's take on that patented plot device of the father trying to get to his kid's big school production in time.
Since this is Kevin Smith, you of course also get exposed to jokes. The story, when it starts, is set back in 1994 and so Kevin injects several hindsight is 20/20 jokes ("George Michael is all about the ladies. 'I Want Your Sex'? That sound like he's singing to a guy?"). There's even one gag about the Fresh Prince that really pays off near the end. Lots of good lines, but my favorite is the school principal emceeing the fall pageant: "First grader Gertrude Trinke and her grandfather will be performing what I can only assume is a hymn entitled "God, That's Good" from the musical Sweeney Todd." Heh.
It's just a really good cast. If you're familiar with Geoge Carlin's stage persona, know that he doesn't do that here, he plays it gruff and straight and he's effective. The hilarious Stephen Root manages to steal plenty of scenes, even some of the scenes featuring the very cute Raquel Castro. Matt Damon and Jason Lee stop by for a funny cameo. Jason Biggs looks like a waxy mannequin on the DVD cover.
The DVD's sizable bonus material, some of which even pertains to this movie: Stream of consciousness audio commentary with Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck; another audio commentary with Kevin Smith, producer Scott Mosier and special guest Jason Mewes; "From MALLRATS to JERSEY GIRL" - Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck shoot the breeze and spend maybe two seconds mentioning this movie (00:27:08 minutes long); You also get five installments from The Tonight Show's "Roadside Attractions" segment hosted by Kevin Smith (including On the Set of JERSEY GIRL); the Behind-the-Scenes special (00:16:20); and really decent text interviews with the cast & crew.