“Cats is the second worst thing that ever happened to New York City.” – Ollie
After closing the door shut (although not too firmly) on his View Askewniverse after Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Kevin Smith took an entirely different direction with Jersey Girl, which focused on the complexities of family life and the grief of losing somebody you love, and having to pick the pieces up after.
Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck) is a high flying media publicist in New York. He is devoted to his job and to his girlfriend Gertrude (Jennifer Lopez). The couple are soon married and expecting a baby when suddenly Ollie’s life is torn apart when Gertrude dies during childbirth. Left alone with his daughter, Gertie, Ollie throws himself back into his job, leaving the baby at home in Jersey with his father Bart (George Carlin).
Growing tired of Ollie’s reluctance to become the father Gertie needs, Bart decides to go to back to work, leaving Ollie holding the baby. With a big launch due that afternoon for his client, Will Smith’s first movie, Independence Day, Ollie has no option but to take Gertie with him. The pressure of a crying baby, failed nappy change and pent up grief end up causing him to have a major outburst which kills his career dead on the spot. With no job to go back to Ollie decides to devote himself to his daughter, making a promise to her as she sleeps.
Flash forward seven years and Ollie is sticking to his promise of trying to be the best father he can be. After being blacklisted from all of New York’s public relation firms he has been living and working alongside his father as a civil servant in his childhood Jersey borough. Gertie, who is now in school, has grown up to be a confident and intelligent child, who has her father and grandfather twisted around her little finger. On a trip out to the local video store, Ollie meets Maya, who is also a graduate student, and she decides to use Ollie as one of her subjects due to his consumption of porn after remaining celibate since his wife’s death.
As Ollie and Maya grow closer together, Ollie realises he misses his old life and after working his magic at a local town meeting decides he wants to get back on the horse, and contacts his old protégé Arthur (Jason Biggs) who sets him up with an interview.
Tensions are raised between Gertie, Bart and Maya towards Ollie as he steams ahead with his chance to get his old life back, with the culmination of raised feelings turning into an argument between Gertie, who tells her father she wishes he had died instead on her mum, and Ollie responding with the fact she ruined his life. The two later make up and Gertie agrees to move to New York. Kids get over this stuff easily, it seems.
While waiting to be seen for his interview Ollie is sat next to Will Smith, the client that cost him his career so many years earlier. The two talk about their lives and children and Ollie realises he would rather sacrifice his career than his relationship with his daughter, finally closing the door on his old life. Rushing from the city, he manages to make it back in time to take part in Gertie’s musical performance of Sweeny Todd‘s God, That’s Good! and at the after party lets Gertie know that they are staying in Jersey.
Jersey Girl was in many ways a big risk for Kevin Smith. It was his biggest budget film by far and he had a trinity of big movie stars (Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez and Liv Tyler) starring in it. He didn’t have his usual base of characters and was relying really on the larger movie going public to take this movie in. But there was one major obstacle against him at the time: Bennifer.
Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez had been dating for some time before Jersey Girl had come out, and already had one flop movie, Gigli, behind them. Negative press was now surrounding them and the public had fallen out of love with Hollywood’s latest golden couple. There was nothing that was going to stop that impact onto this movie. Saying that, however, Jersey Girl really got the short end of the stick as it is a very enjoyable and touching film.
Ben Affleck, although not harking back to the glory days of Chasing Amy, is great as Ollie and he puts in more than a solid performance as the single dad trying to get his life back on track. George Carlin, as always, is uniquely funny as Ollie’s father Bart and really makes Smith’s script work for him. And although the old adage does state never work with children or animals, Raquel Castro is just the right amount of cute as Gertie.
The script, although not up there with Smith’s best, is engaging enough to make you connect with the characters and there are more than a few stand out scenes, although my personal favourite is Ollie’s conversation with Will Smith. The scene is seamless and so well written when it could really have turned into a giant joke.
Like most movies with children included in the cast, it does sometimes fall into its own sugary sweetness and you can’t help but notice the influence of the late, great John Hughes’ She’s Having a Baby running throughout. Both director/writers were influenced by their own families.
As this genre of movie goes, you could, in fact, do a lot worse and if the critics put you off watching this movie first time round then take a look at it when it’s next on TV. And if you haven’t watched it in a while, wait until the next rainy afternoon and put it in your DVD player, you’ll feel better after. Probably.
After Jersey Girl‘s ultimate failure at the box office, Smith decided to take a step back into familiar territory and give the View Askewniverse fans one final sendoff for the franchise that had been entertaining them with for the past 10 years. Next time, we’ll all be off to revisit Dante and Randal in the wonderful Clerks II.
Jersey Girl Key Info:Released: 26th March 2004 (US) / 18th June 2004 (UK)Distributed By: Miramax FilmsBudget: $35,000,000Box Office Gross: $25,266,129Best DVD Edition: No special editions at this time but you can buy a signed copy via Kevin Smith’s website