- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

A cathartic moment comes early in “Jersey Girl”: Jennifer Lopez dies. The recovering

queen of overexposure has an introductory role in this, writer/director Kevin Smith’s serio-comic reflection on two generations of fatherhood: his own, and that of his recently deceased father.

Inspired by watching his wife stoke the home fires, Mr. Smith, he of geek-out favorites such as “Clerks” and wannabe shockers such as “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma,” wrote tame “Jersey Girl” after contemplating what life would be like if he were forced to raise their daughter alone.

He didn’t bargain for last year’s Ben-Jen circus, which, mercifully, does not infect “Jersey Girl.”

A delivery-room aneurysm summons Miss Lopez’s Gertrude to the stage wings, leaving ex-hubby-to-be Ben Affleck the job of exorcising the demons of “Gigli.”

Largely, he succeeds, as does “Jersey Girl,” a romantic comedy that’s shot through with contrivances and cushy manipulations but nonetheless has its heart in the right place.

In a reverse angle on one of the culture’s favorite martyr figures, the single mom, Mr. Smith puts Ollie in the crucible of single fatherhood. With Gertrude gone, Mr. Affleck’s Ollie Trinke, a slightly shallow ManhattanPR flack, must raise baby Gertie on his own.

He folds quickly. Ollie’s father, public-works grunt Bart (going-through-the-gruff-motions George Carlin), takes the devastated family into his Highlands, N.J., home but refuses to let Ollie fob off fatherhood on granddad.

Useless at diaper changing and other grimy chores — the daily commute under the Hudson is presumably another drag — Ollie blows his stack during a press conference to introduce an up-and-coming actor/rapper, one Will Smith.

Ollie is sacked and ostracized, we’re asked to believe, by the same music publicity industry that has welcomed Lizzie Grubman back to the fold. (Ollie’s outburst is so legendary that, years later, he’s laughed out of a job interview.)

So he takes a job with Bart and the boys (Stephen Root, Mike Starr). Skip ahead seven years. Gertie (played by mini-Jen Raquel Castro) is a delightfully precocious young girl. Ollie is a humble city employee, with a developing love interest in local video-store-clerk/grad student Maya (Liv Tyler).

The problem: Ollie’s pesky itch to get back into the business and a buried resentment at how tragedy and responsibility have robbed him of the high life.

Now, Harvey Weinstein has never asked for my opinion, but am I alone in questioning why Mr. Smith chose PR for Ollie? Is there any career less amenable to romanticization? Was it a self-challenge: watch me turn a bottom feeder into a master-of-the-universe glamour shark?

Anyway, Mr. Smith’s idea of charisma here is pretty silly. In a hinge moment, Ollie rediscovers his passion for smooth talk during a public meeting where Highlands locals air grievances about a temporary main street closure.

Approvingly, Mr. Smith has Ollie say something like, “I talked the booboisie into wanting what’s good for them, but, gee, it felt good to be back on the horse,” and it’s off-putting.

Such are the flaws of “Jersey Girl”; its strengths come wrapped in situation-comedy packages, like the gawky discomforts of trying to explain matters sexual to an 8-year-old, and of trying oneself to have a sex life with an 8-year-old in the house.

The relationship between Ollie and Maya is touching, if a little under-explored. What his plot leaves vacant Mr. Smith tries to fill in with familiar pop music; for example, Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” A great song, but sappy in movies.

Young Raquel looks a lot like Miss Lopez might have in her preadolescent years, but as a child actress, she’s no Dakota Fanning. Her lines come off stiff and memorized.

“Jersey Girl” works best for Mr. Affleck, who, for once, is redeemed of smarminess.

The sweet resolution here turns on a school pageant. It’s all very predictable and sentimental, but then so are many of the joys of mature adulthood. With one foot still in the video store, Kevin Smith is struggling to grow up.

Maybe another child will do the trick.

**

TITLE: “Jersey Girl”

RATING: PG-13 (Some profanity; sexual content, including frank dialogue)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Kevin Smith. Produced by Scott Mosier. Executive produced by Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein and Jonathan Gordon. Cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond. Original music by James L. Venable.

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes.

WEB SITE: https://www.jerseygirl-movie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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