Here’s the story of a man who thinks he has it all, thinks he looses it all, then thinks he needs it all back. For writer/director Kevin Smith, it’s another step into expanding his fan base into the mainstream.
In the mid 90s, Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck) is a recording industry PR and at the top of his game. After the untimely loss of his wife leaves him as a single father, escalating circumstances and a few poorly-timed comments cut his career short. Seven years later and living with his father (George Carlin) in New Jersey, Trinke finds the inspiration to try to take back the career he believes is the only thing he’s good at, but a local video store clerk (Liv Tyler) and his own daughter (Raquel Castro) may already have the answers to life Trinke can’t see for all the skyscrapers in Manhattan.
First of all, the film is by far and away the best shot, best lit, best looking film to Kevin Smith’s considerable credit (which he also heaps upon hiring veteran cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond). That said, it might also be the smartest script he’s done to date as well, showing considerable restraint in being subtle with his subject matter while still willing to treat the viewers like adults. Sure, it’s only PG-13, but he resubmitted it to get down to that rating… c’mon, it’s got a kid in it, for goodness sake! Even the infamous Jay and Silent Bob now live on only as clever icons for Kevin Smith’s production company logo.
Next is Ben Affleck himself; the View Askew veteran pours enough heart into the character of Trinke to remind everyone why he really is leading-man material. Whispers of Jersey Girl being Affleck’s turn-around film are already surfacing, but it’s really just more proof that a good script and dialogue still outweigh all the self-serving special effects in Hollywood. An actor still needs decent material to work with at the core of any film, and Affleck makes this part his own.
Then there’s the supporting cast. Check out the full-length role for George Carlin (who hasn’t had this much screen time since Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) stealing every scene he’s in, even the heavy-handed ones. Liv Tyler is always enchanting as the main character’s muse, even when she isn’t playing an elf. The breakthrough credit, however, must go to Raquel Castro for holding her own with the rest of the cast; the wrong casting of Trinke’s seven-year old daughter could have sunk the ship, but instead she nails it perfectly. Also watch for the usual cameos and a few surprises, too.
Diehard fans of Kevin Smith’s earlier films may find something lacking (namely much of the X-rated subject matter and dialogue he’s made a name for himself with), but hopefully they’ll stay long enough to see a bit more maturity in his filmmaking, which can only translate into more mainstream ticket sales than Smith and Miramax ventures normally enjoy. Jersey Girl works as both a date film and a family comedy, but its melodramatic storyline manages to embrace cliché while spoofing itself at the same time. After all, is there still any doubt that the answers to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are all to be found in New Jersey?
(a three skull recommendation out of four)