Dir: Kevin Smith. US. 2004. 103mins.
It's theoretically possible, of course, that director Kevin Smith has not used every cliche associated with the domestic genre featuring guilty yuppie parents and guilting kids, but audiences will be hard-pressed to find anything missing in Jersey Girl. As attested to in an egregious 'director's statement' accompanying the film, the once fearsome, controversy-seeking director of films like Clerks and Dogma has been reduced, apparently by the recent birth of a daughter and the death of his own father, to an embarrassing lump of mush.
The forced and obvious script, in which virtually every scene and situation has been seen a hundred times before, would embarrass a TV writer. Wooden acting and a complete absence of sexual chemistry on the part of romantic couple Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler, coupled with a obnoxiously cute and mechanical little girl playing Affleck's daughter Gertie (Castro), don't help.
Worst of all, the film is neither funny nor moving in the slightest degree, and will only be appreciated by the least discerning of mall audiences starved for entertainment during this exceptionally depressing winter of studio misfires.
Affleck plays Ollie Trinke, a hard-driving New York publicist. He meets and marries Gertrude (Jennifer Lopez), but she dies in childbirth 10 minutes into the film. (There are some indications that these names are supposed to be funny.) Left with baby Gertie, Ollie presumes he can dump his new charge on his dad in New Jersey (Carlin) and continue with his fast-paced life.
One day, under a lot of pressure at a press conference, he tells the assembled press mob (here caricatured mercilessly but not very humorously) what he really thinks of them and is drummed out of the PR corps.
Cast into the outer darkness of New Jersey, he meets Maya (Tyler) a graduate student writing a thesis about male pornwatching habits while moonlighting at a video store. Much self-consciously cute but largely unfunny family comedy, centred on Gertie, ensues. Though Ollie hasn't given up his dream of returning to the bright lights of the big city, he eventually learns that his daughter is more important to him than any other earthly glory.
The film even ends with them dancing together, a lightbeam shining down upon them from above.
Some audience interest may be piqued by the prospect of seeing Ben and J Lo reunited after the disaster that was Gigli, but Lopez departs the picture so quickly that little traction results from this quarter.
Tyler is curiously flat and unconvincing, but the tortuously 'clever' and 'shocking' dialogue she's been furnished might explain that. Affleck is serviceable but little more. The wonderfully corrosive George Carlin as Affleck's father provides some hope of a glimpse of Smith's former self, but his character as well is inundated by cliche. The film briefly comes to life near the end when Will Smith appears as himself, bringing some sorely-needed genuineness.
But it's much too late by that point. Hopefully, the sentimentality of new fatherhood will wear off by the time Smith's child is a teenager, and he can return to what he does best.
Prod cos: Miramax, Beverly Detroit, Close Call Films, View Askew Productions
US dist: Miramax
Int'l sales: Miramax Int'l
Exec prod/scr: Kevin Smith
Prod: Scott Mosier
Cine: Vilmos Zsigmond
Eds: Scott Mosier and Kevin Smith
Prod des: Robert Holtzman
Music: James L Venable
Main cast: Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, George Carlin, Raquel Castro, Jason Biggs, Jennifer Lopez