Jersey Girl emerges as Kevin Smith’s most polished effort to date, but not his funniest. Smith takes on his new-found fatherhood in the film, and the results are surprisingly sweet and heartfelt.
The film opens with Ollie (Affleck) and Gertrude (Lopez) taking a trip from New York City back to Affleck’s home in Jersey to see his father, Bart (Carlin). Ollie keeps saying to himself that if Gertrude survives the trip, she may just be the one. Gertrude is pregnant, and shortly thereafter the two find themselves in the hospital with Gertrude in heavy labor. She delivers who would become Gertrude Jr. (Castro), but problems ensue and Gertrude dies directly after delivery due to an aneurysm.
Traumatized by the event, Ollie develops a short temper, which eventually gets him fired from the job that he loves. He knows that Gertie Jr. is important, but just can’t seem to make time due to his job. This leaves a lot of the baby duties to Bart, who is not happy about it.
The majority of the film takes place with Gertie at age seven, and Ollie trying to find new work. A love interest enters his life in the form of Maya, a video store worker who is all too direct for Ollie’s tastes. Time has a way of sorting things out, however.
What makes Jersey Girl work so well is its honesty and heart. I was unsure of how this was going to work out with Smith at the helm, but I can easily say he succeeds. The directing side of it is really nothing special, but his dialogue is great (as usual) and he gets a great performance out of Ben Affleck, in particular. We get to see his full range as an actor, flip-flopping from drama to comedy in as little as one scene, and even ranges that I didn’t know he had.
The supporting cast is also excellent. George Carlin steals his scenes as Ollie’s father, combining honesty with his usual weird antics. Liv Tyler is also likable, if a bit annoying, as Maya, but she wins us over by film’s end.
Massive credit must be given to young newcomer Raquel Castro, who is the key to the film’s overall success. She is very comfortable in front of the camera, and her performance here should lead to others in the future. She was the X-factor for the film, and because of her it is all the better.
Without giving too much away, the film comes dangerously close to falling into a deadly cliche near the end, but Smith strays from making it too much of a groaner.
Jersey Girl is a different kind of Kevin Smith film, and those who really dig his vulgar Clerks side may not enjoy it that much. However, it does show Smith’s willingness to evolve as both a writer and director. Jersey Girl is heartfelt and funny, with solid performances all around. Highly recommended.
Studio: Miramax Films
Length: 102 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 on appeal for language and sexual content including frank dialogue.
Theatrical Release: March 26, 2004
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Written by: Kevin Smith
Cast: Ben Affleck, Raquel Castro, George Carlin, Liv Tyler, Mike Starr, Stephen Root