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Jersey Girl

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For Language and Sexual Content including Frank Dialogue)

Running Time: 102 minutes

Starring: Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, George Carlin, Stephen Root, Mike Starr, Raquel Castro with Jason Biggs and Jennifer Lopez

Written and Directed by: Kevin Smith

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Kevin Smith, Producer Scott Mosier and Jason Mewes, Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck, Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck Interview, Behind The Scenes Of Jersey Girl, Roadside Attractions with Kevin Smith, Text Interviews with Cast and Crew, Sneak Peeks

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (18 Scenes)

Released: September 7th, 2004

 

 

"Forget about who you thought you were and just accept what you are."

 

Let's get the obvious out of the way first - you know, the things that have been hammered out in the media thousands of times but which some people refuse to understand. For starters, Kevin Smith's latest film "Jersey Girl" is NOT - I repeat NOT - "Gigli 2." Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez may be in the movie together, but it's only briefly and has no connection to their previous cinematic outing whatsoever. Next, while "Gigli" wasn't that great of a movie (it may have been mocked to death but wasn't as awful as it was made out to be), "Jersey Girl" is a film that is a lot better, enjoyable and despite what some of you may think more-than-tolerable. Finally, as everyone knows at this point (and to the disappointment of many), "Jersey Girl" is Smith's first film outside his own universe of interconnected characters. Sure it takes place in his native New Jersey, but it's separate from everything else he's ever done - which means there's no Jay and Silent Bob.

Now with all that out of the way, let's get to the story: "Jersey Girl" is about Ollie Trinkie (Ben Affleck), a top music publicist in New York circa 1994. Ollie seems to have it all - he falls for and marries Gertrude (Jennifer Lopez) and shortly after they elope they're expecting a baby. But during birth, Gertrude dies of an aneurysm leaving Ollie on his own with the baby.

Neglecting his child at first, Ollie tries to lose himself in his work. But when he's forced to take his infant daughter to a publicity event, and struggles to take care of her, Ollie loses his cool and in frustration doesn't say the kindest things about The Fresh Smith (better known these days as Will Smith). Instantly, Ollie's career is toast and he's forced to go home again - Ollie moves back in with his father Bart (George Carlin) and becomes a streetsweeper for the New Jersey town they live in. Needless to say, Ollie is a bit malcontent.

Despite the rough start, Ollie learns to take care of daughter Gertie properly and begins to really embrace his role as a father. Fast forward a few years later - Gertie (Raquel Castro) is an elementary school student, and she - with Ollie and Bart - have a pretty stable life. But things begin to unravel - video clerk/student Maya (Liv Tyler) begins a unique relationship with Ollie, and thanks to the help of an old friend (Jason Biggs), Ollie may have a shot to return to the world of publicity. With this though comes a lot of change, and Ollie soon must make a choice that would affect the entire future of his family. It's time for Ollie to forget about who he thought he was, and it's time for him to accept who he really is.

As mentioned (and as you all probably knew anyway), "Jersey Girl" is a radical departure from Kevin Smith (something which I have no problems with). In comparison with Smith's first five films, his latest is incredibly different. It's a heartwarming story (yes, you read that right) and it does drip in sentimentality (in my opinion, Smith doesn't overload on the sap and puts on just the right amount). Pretty much all of Smith's trademarks are gone - no strong sexuality, no extreme profanity and a lack of pop culture references (yes, you read that right too). The short story is that this definitely is Kevin Smith's most mainstream and accessible film yet, and let me assure those with some reservations that the film does work quite well.

The story is a really personal one for Smith, as it is based on his experiences as a father and his love for his daughter. This shines through all the way in his script, and while Smith's content and focus have changed, his gifts as a writer are still exactly the same. Of course the audience knows exactly where the story is going to go and how it's set up just by knowing the plot-line, but the real trick is how you tell the story. This has always been one of Smith's biggest strengths, and in "Jersey Girl" Smith does quite a bit with what he has. The characters are not only set-up well, but their development is superb. Smith wonderfully captures their growing pains, their insecurities, the changes they face and how they cope with their evolving worlds.

The progression of events in the movie are natural and predictable, but Smith has a good handle on things and makes the story arc pretty even. Some of the scenes are a bit stretched out, but all of them do serve their purpose and really do build-up well into a snowball that involves all the characters, their feelings and circumstances. Tension certainly builds in the movie (especially with the family situations), and the audience can really feel it. The film packs plenty of drama, and I believe these dramatic scenes are the best moments in the movie (having great actors perform them doesn't hurt either).

As usual, Smith has a great knack for dialogue - it's realistic but also unique; Smith makes the personas of his characters stand out through what they say to one another. Characters may say similar things when it comes to some conversations, but they all sound different. The movie has a lot of interesting and intelligent exchanges (Ollie and Maya's chats are lovely, and Bart's wisdom hits home), which are hallmarks for Smith's movies. As far as the humor, it truly is a lot different (it has to be). While I didn't find many laugh-out-loud moments, there are plenty of good lines and clever ideas to go about (the Sweeny Todd performance at the end definitely takes the cake). You may not howl as you did with some of Smith's other films, but at least you'll chuckle.

Still, despite all of this, Smith has a few points to make. The movie is about moving on from the best and the concept that family should always come first (and that you should do the best for them), but this really is a movie about relationships with assorted loved ones. Fathers and daughters, fathers and sons and all of those who have meant the most to us. Smith flawlessly nails all of this and really brings out such a bright emotional core to the movie that is natural and doesn't overwhelm the audience. This is something that isn't easy to do. There is plenty of insight to go around too, especially when it comes to the nature of people and love - and all of this is heartfelt in the best possible way. This is by no means Kevin Smith's funniest, dramatic or best screenplay (Smith directly compares it to "Chasing Amy," and while similar ideas are tackled, I'd say it's more "Cashing Amy"-light). But his original voice can easily be heard be it you've seen everything the man's done or this is the first time you've seen one of his films. Personally, I believe distinction counts for a lot.

As a genuine filmmaker though, Smith has certainly improved. The script may seem really standard to some, and some may dismiss his visual style as being flat and that it looks like every other movie out there meant to appeal to mass audiences (since a lot of people do like familiarity). I do have to disagree with that - when it comes to the camera, Smith is getting a lot better. Often stereotyped for his still shots, "Jersey Girl" has a much more grand flavor (the wide aspect ratio certainly helps and brings an added attention to detail). With help from legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, the camera moves a lot this time around - and often. There are a lot of nice shots in the movie - the opening at the Christmas party looks great, and there are plenty of fine long shots (such as the carriage ride in New York City). In addition to the strong editing (once again done by Smith and producer pal Scott Mosier), Smith is well on his way to developing a concise style that really belongs to him.

What holds "Jersey Girl" back though is that Smith's previous five films were true originals, and they were all breaths of fresh air in their own ways. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about his father-daughter tale. Smith has acknowledged this quite a bit already, saying he only hoped to "add a few more spokes on the wheel." If that was Smith's intention, I really think he succeeded - the film has a lot to say, but doesn't get bogged down by it. The film is realistic, has a lot anybody can relate to and is pretty dramatic without going overboard. I've seen plenty of films like "Jersey Girl," but not all of them stand out. "Jersey Girl" does though, and its sparks really do help make it fly. Smith has crafted a movie that is simple and sweet without getting overly complex.

What really brings the film to full life though is the acting, and Smith has rounded up a perfect cast for this personal project. Smith wrote the role of Ollie with his pal Ben Affleck in mind, and once again their collaboration is a tremendous success. It's true that Affleck has gotten a lot of flack in the media for many reasons, and while people seem to enjoy mocking him, I truly believe that he is a great talent and a really outstanding actor. Affleck is in full form here, and he think his performance as Ollie Trinkie is one of his absolute best (and should be remembered as one of his best). Right from the start, it's very apparent that Affleck has invested a lot of heart and energy into the movie. The term pitch-perfect is an understatement here, as the actor really conveys a wide array of emotions. Affleck shows off Ollie's isolation and sadness really well, but also his intensity and desperation when it comes to his career. Even though he's not even married yet, Affleck is more than believable as a father figure with a lot of love to give and who would do anything he could for his daughter. In the comedic moments there is a sly charm to Affleck, and in the dramatic scenes he is incredibly convincing, forceful and even powerful. Whether you love him or hate him, Ben Affleck is an actor that shouldn't be underestimated - he really knocks this one out of the park.

Even if the film does belong to one-half of Bennifer, all the supporting players get their moments and play well off against him. Liv Tyler does share a natural chemistry with the actor (they were love interests before in "Armageddon" after all), and her character has a fine sweetness and sincerity which is a big part of the film (I was surprised that she wasn't in it more). Raquel Castro is most excellent as Gertie - other than her looking like a mini-Jennifer Lopez, she's a natural actress and isn't overly cutesy. Speaking of J.Lo, there isn't much to say about her since she's barely in the movie. She's fine, but her character is mainly a catalyst to an extent and her physical presence doesn't distract or take away anything from the film. Jason Biggs pops in and does good work as Ollie's former (but nice and helpful) assistant Arthur, while little performances from comedic character actors Mike Starr and Stephen Root also add to the film. (And for you View Askew fans, you'll probably like the few cameos.)

Still, I was really happy to see George Carlin in his biggest film role yet. I really love George Carlin as a comedian and talent, and I don't think people realize that the man is actually a really good actor (I think he originally started out wanting to be an actor). Carlin does get some comedic moments, but he is also grizzled and rather dramatic, playing a large part of the narrative's heart (one moment he's in, rather what he says, really impacts the entire film). I'm glad Kevin Smith has finally utilized his potential on screen - it was longer overdue, and this was really perfect casting. Even if Carlin never gets this big of a role again (I certainly hope he does), at least he got the chance to show his stuff once.

And on a different note, I have a message for all you obsessed fans who only want to see movies by Smith that take place in View Askew universe: I pity you - you don't know what you're missing with "Jersey Girl." Besides, Kevin Smith is capable of doing much more than what he is known for, and this is the movie that proves it. Whether you saw "Jersey Girl" and didn't like it that's another story - but please, for the rest of you, don't judge a book by its cover (sorry for the cliché).

Personally, I really enjoyed "Jersey Girl." While I don't think it comes close to topping "Chasing Amy" (my all-time favorite Kevin Smith film, and all-time favorites in general), there's no denying that it does pack a punch on its own merits. It's easy to tell how personal of a film this was for Smith, and his passion and honesty he puts forth in the film goes a long way. Even with its flaws, this is a worthy family dramedy that not only marks a giant forward step for Smith, but also highlights his talents as a filmmaker.

 

Even though the back of the box says 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, "Jersey Girl" is presented (and was shot) in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Unfortunately, this is a pretty disappointing transfer. The overall image quality is incredibly soft, which results in a less-than-detailed image filled with a few fuzzy parts. Detailed resolution is hurt the most by this - background portions aren't clearly defined, and a lot of the movie doesn't look as sharp or natural as it could. I hate to nitpick, but on top of this there's also some edge enhancement, edge halos and the print isn't cleaned - nicks, blemishes and other marks can be seen throughout. Still, the colors feature good saturation and don't bleed and the fleshtones look fantastic. Here's hoping Smith's extended cut of the film on DVD will look a lot better.

 

Faring a bit better is the audio. Presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 (a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also on the disc), this track is just how I imagined it would sound. It's pretty standard in that a lot of the sound comes from the front channels, but the rears do get a kick here and there with a few surround sounds (crowds - such as when Ollie screws up and at the party - and some of the construction work do make things a little more active). Dialogue is very easy to hear and sounds quite clear, but the music is what stands out the most on this track. The variety of songs (such as Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen) really spread through the channels well, and the score from James L. Venable also enhances the mood. None of the sound elements overlap each other either or have any distortion, making this a positive listening experience. Dynamic range is decent, the subwoofer shines very slightly and fidelity is pretty high too. A perfectly crisp and well-tailored 5.1 mix. English subtitles, Spanish subtitles and English closed captions are also included.

 

Kevin Smith loves to pack his DVDs with extras, and "Jersey Girl" is no exception. But be warned dear reader, way back when the film was coming out Smith announced that there would be two DVD editions. A more basic, straightforward release (this one) and a more packed edition with an extended cut of the film (rumored to come out in 2005 - hmm, I assume that's where we'll get to see some of that deleted J.Lo footage). But for a basic release, there is a good deal of supplements here which are all very great in quality.

Two commentary tracks are on the disc. The first Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Kevin Smith, Producer Scott Mosier and Jason Mewes. If there's always one thing you can count on from Smith and company, they ALWAYS deliver great commentaries and this one is no exception. Smith explains that "special guest" Mewes plays the role of the "viewer" - he's supposed to be attentive and ask questions to him and Mosier. Mewes does succeed, and he does take this track rather seriously and asks some good things and has some enjoyable comments. Speaking of Mewes, he openly discusses his drug problems on the track (he's clean and sober now, thankfully) and how it led to him not having a major part in the movie (the Jason Biggs role - Arthur) and due to a warrant in New Jersey he couldn't even appear for a cameo. Smith is certainly encouraging of his friend though (as usual), as everyone here is candid, warm and open. But anyway, back to the movie - comments are pretty scene specific, as Mosier and Smith discuss all aspects of the production - the story, technical details, the actors, how some things were accomplished, etc. - in great detail. With no dead moments (these guys are as chatty as ever), tons of laugh-out-loud comments and onslaught of very articulate and entertaining information, this is one fabulous track. This really is one of the absolute best commentaries I've heard in a really long time, and certainly a contender for one of the best commentaries of 2004 (given Smith's track record, I didn't expect anything less). Even die-hard Smith fans who detested "Jersey Girl" will have a hard time knocking this commentary. (Oh yeah, Smith also mentions that future special edition of the DVD coming out in a year's time at the latest.)

The second track, the Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck (AKA with the fat, hobbit-like director and the big Hollywood star), is different from the first but is as every bit as good. The approach is a little bit different - it doesn't always follow the on-screen action as it's a lot more casual and a lot less serious. Smith and Affleck have a longstanding and very strong friendship, and their connection can be hear throughout the 102 minute running time. These guys really know how to have fun - I really don't remember the last time I laughed so much while listening to a commentary. But even with all the really funny remarks (their ripping on the British tabloids toward the start is priceless), the two also find time to get serious about the movie and own inspirations - how much they love the story and the characters, personal experiences from their own relationships (yep - you'll hear about Jennifer Lopez in pretty good detail), getting the film together, the strong acting in the film and a bit more. I don't even think I have to say it but here goes - yet another contender for one of the best commentaries of 2004 (it should at least rank as the funniest).

Lasting nearly a half-hour is the Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck Interview. It's not so much of an interview per se, but rather the two very close friends chatting about their history together and friendship (with clips from Smith's films featuring Affleck thrown in for good measure). They have quite a few stories to share about one another - from their initial meeting to them working together on several films. It's interesting to note that Smith cast Affleck in "Chasing Amy" not based on his performance in "Mallrats," but rather getting to know him and discovering that he could indeed be a strong romantic lead. Some of their talk is a little bit dirty (which won't bother Smith's regular fans, but more conservative watchers may mind), but they have a lot of excellent things to say about themselves, their work and one another. This is a perfect compliment to their commentary, and like that track, you really get a sense of how much they respect and like one another.

Behind The Scenes Of Jersey Girl is a featurette lasting a little over sixteen minutes, and set up to be promotional but it's still a decent watch. Clips from the movie (and trailer), clips from Smith's other movies, and on-the-set footage are presented throughout. The themes of the movie are discussed, the story, Kevin Smith breaking out of his View Askew universe, Smith's challenges with the movie and a few other things. Interviews with Smith, Scott Mosier, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Liv Tyler, Raquel Castro and George Carlin (clips of one of his comedy performances are shown briefly) are presented to help give an overview of the movie.

Next up is a feature that should be familiar to View Askew fans, that being Roadside Attractions with Kevin Smith. For the past few years, Smith has been a correspondent for NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and has done these incredibly amusing bits where he travels to various parts of America and visits some interesting tourist attractions. Smith participates in some sketch-esque comedy in the places and riffs with the locals too. Fives of Smith's visits are here (there's also an index to find out more information on his travels) - Upstate New York, Orlando, Florida; Tampa, Florida; Seattle,Washington and topping it off there's Smith on the set of "Jersey Girl." This is a nice bonus, and I know there's been more of these segments - hopefully the next "Jersey Girl" release or the next View Askew production ("Clerks 2") will include more. Smith has also provides a nice introduction explaining the idea of the segments and how it originated. Good stuff.

A very nifty and very welcoming extra are Text Interviews with Cast and Crew. Written by Antony Teofilo, it's clear that this guy is a very talented writer. Teofilo provides a strong written introduction and a little bit of his background, and also reports in from the set or has something concise to say to open the written interviews. While some of you may be lazy when it comes to reading, I highly urge you all to read these if you liked the movie or any of the talent involved. Other than Teofilo's strong writing style, he asks the perfect questions (which aren't all about the movie) and gets some pretty candid responses. Some of the information may already be known, but those talking really do open up and have a lot of insightful things to say. It was nice to learn more about Kevin Smith's father, the working style of director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond and some anecdotes as well as history about George Carlin. The principal cast and crew are interviewed here, as well as some who aren't in the spotlight: Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, George Carlin, Raquel Castro, Matt Damon, Scott Mosier, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, production designer Robert "Ratface" Holtzman and costume designer Juliet Polsca. Fascinating and refreshing reads - don't miss them.

The disc also features a couple of Sneak Peeks for other Miramax-based releases - but alas, as is the case with many Disney releases, there is no trailer for the actual film being presented on the DVD.

 

I don't think "Jersey Girl" is Kevin Smith's best work, but it's an admirable and very enjoyable effort that even his most die-hard fans should look into. While an even more expansive DVD of the film is reportedly due out in 2005, for the time being this is a really solid single disc edition. The film transfer is okay, the 5.1 mix is more than adequate and all the extras are simply fantastic (especially the commentaries). Fans of the movie should rush out and pick this one up, and for the rest of you who missed it in theaters (or decided to ignore it) - I urge you to give this film a rental.