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JERSEY GIRL

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, George Carlin, Stephen Root, Mike Starr, Raquel Castro, Jason Biggs, Jennifer Lopez
Director: Kevin Smith
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Miramax
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: September 7, 2004

“You're the only thing I was ever good at.”

Film ***1/2

Who knew that the writer/director of Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back had a soft side? With Jersey Girl, Kevin Smith has demonstrated something quite revealing; he has the ability to deteriorate from the type of extreme comedy he's known for, and pretty much help to innovate with Clerks, and make a kinder, much more sentimental film and still maintain his knack for invoking wit and realism into the story and characters.

It helps that Jersey Girl happens to be something of a personal project for Mr. Smith. The film tells of a cocky young man who is experiencing the trappings of fatherhood for the first time. Smith, himself, became a father a few years ago, and this newfound experience served as the basis for writing and directing this film. The result is a movie that is emotionally heartwarming while at the same time hugely funny, illustrating Smith's talent for superb well-written comedy.

The film stars Mallrats' Ben Affleck as Ollie Trinkie, who at the opening of the story is on top of the game of life, or so he thinks. Ollie is a hotshot NYC music publicist, succeeding in both the professional field and the personal sideline. He gets married to the love of his life, Gertrude (Jennifer Lopez), and the couple are excited to learn that they are about to have a baby.

Then Ollie's life takes an unexpected detour. At his wife's side for the delivery, Ollie observes two stunning incidents right before him; he has become a father to a baby girl, and that Gertrude has unexpectedly died following the delivery. Ollie is stricken with sheer grief, and his entire life starts to take an unexpected downfall.

The once hotshot publicist is now at the bottom of the barrel. After losing his job for accidentally telling a crowd of reporters to shut up as he tries to comfort the baby, Ollie moves from the city to across the river in Jersey with his easily annoyed father, Bart (George Carlin). Having everything he loved about his life taken away from him, Ollie realizes that only thing he can do is to be the best father he can be to his baby daughter, even if it means putting his life back together at the same time.

Seven years go by, as Ollie is now working sanitation with his dad. The baby has now grown into a young lady, named Gertie (Raquel Castro). Ollie's love life has basically been non-existent, simply because of his refusal to date anyone after experiencing such a loss, even it was seven years ago. That all begins to change the day he meets a lively video store clerk named Maya (Liv Tyler).

Maya does more than take a liking to Ollie; she opens up serious intimate topics to talk about. Since she knows Ollie rents mostly adult films, she's interested in why he does this, as well as why he hasn't felt the need to engage in another loving relationship, or even a casual fling. What later develops is the one thing Ollie has been missing for the last several years of his life.

The rest of the film involves Ollie's desire to find his way back into the PR business, even though his dad constantly reminds him that it's a pure long shot. He eventually gets a chance, thanks to his former assistant, Brickman (Jason Biggs), at possibly bouncing back to his previous profession in NYC. Despite this being great news for Ollie, Gertie doesn't want to move away from the place she's already satisfied living in.

The highlight of Jersey Girl, in addition to Smith's sharply written and moving story and the adorable performance of young Ms. Castro, is the performance of Ben Affleck. Affleck has long been a favorite of mine, and I've always maintained that when he appears in a Kevin Smith film, he delivers his all out best. That belief hasn't been proven better than in Jersey Girl. For me, this film and performance have eradicated the memory of Gigli, and has put Affleck back on top of his game.

Although the film may dive into something of formulaic conclusion, it doesn't halt Jersey Girl from being the all out joy of a movie that it is. Even though many may think that a writer/director like Kevin Smith should stick to the kinds of extreme comedies he's known for making, Smith has proven that he can still create a winner even with a huge change of pace.

Jersey Girl is a softer, kinder offering from Kevin Smith, and in my opinion is just as good as his previous films.

BONUS TRIVIA: Kevin Smith vets Matt Damon and Jason Lee appear briefly in a job interview scene. Plus, there's a big surprise cameo from an actor, playing himself, who gives some advice to Ollie.

Video ****

First off, the cover box indicates the presentation is in the format of 1.85:1, when in actuality it is in the 2.35:1 ratio. It's hard to believe that this kind of mistake still happens.

As the years have progressed, the films of Kevin Smith have grown in terms of the technical quality applied to the look of the film. He's come a long way from Clerks, and Jersey Girl is probably his best looking film to date. With that element, Miramax has produced quite a remarkable looking presentation. The anamorphic picture consists of crisp images and sharp clarity throughout the movie, along with absorbing use of color to boot. A wonderfully detailed picture delivery.

Audio ***

The 5.1 is strong in all the right places. This is probably Kevin Smith's most dialogue-heavy film in some time, but the sound mix doesn't falter for a single second. The dialogue is delivered as smooth as can be, and the occasional music arrangement, including tracks by Bruce Springsteen, Aimee Mann, and Fleetwood Mac each have a superb effect on the presentation.

Features ****

With this release, you can officially now label every Kevin Smith DVD a winner in the extras department, including the recent re-issuing of Clerks. Included are two commentary tracks; the first one is with Smith and Ben Affleck--and while this may not be the most memorable commentary they've conducted, there's still plenty of funny banter between the two. The second track is with Smith, producer Scott Mosier and special guest Jason Mewes. Also featured is a very funny and informative interview segment with Smith and Affleck, a behind the scenes special, a segment from The Tonight Show called "Roadside Attractions with Kevin Smith", and text interviews with the cast and crew.

Summary:

Jersey Girl can be added to Kevin Smith's track record as a winning entry all the way. Filled with terrific writing, some purely moving moments, and another terrific performance from Affleck, the film is a thoroughly enjoyable and winning piece.

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