Judge Patrick Naugle was disappointed by the lack of dick-and-fart jokes.
Forget about who you thought you were, and just accept who you are.
Kevin Smith has tackled everything from slacker clerks to avenging Catholic angels to being in love with a lesbian, and then some. After thoroughly offending many moviegoers—and consistently cracking the rest of us up—Smith decided to make a movie that didn't feature the F-word sixteen dozen times. What he made was Jersey Girl, a mushy romantic comedy that seemed to disappoint his legions of fans combined with having the unlucky timing to be released with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez just when "Bennifer" fever was at an all time high. Now viewers can discover for themselves if Jersey Girl is really worth the rental care of Miramax Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
In the early 1990s, Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck, Mallrats) was one of the best Manhattan public relations men on the planet. He was, in so many words, a true "golden boy." When Ollie meets the love of his life, Gertrude (Jennifer Lopez, Shall We Dance?), he thinks that everything from here on in will go just swimmingly. What Ollie doesn't prepare for is his wife dying during their daughter's birth. Left on his own with a new baby to raise and a job to perform, one day Ollie mentally losses it at a press junket by insulting the reporters and telling them that Will Smith will "never be a movie star." Ollie is promptly let go of his job and—flash forward a few years—moves in with his alcoholic father (George Carlin, Smith's Dogma), takes a job as a street sweeper, and attempts to raise his adorable daughter, Gertie (Raquel Castro).
During his time at home Ollie begins to let go of his selfish ways, discovers the joys of being a parent, and begins a new, often tumultuous relationship with a new woman (Liv Tyler, Armageddon) who may be able to show Ollie that love is not always a one shot deal.
What happened to Kevin Smith? That seems to be a question everyone will be asking themselves once they see Smith's newest film, Jersey Girl. The man who gave us such classic comedies like Clerks, Mallrats, and Dogma has—how do I put this gently?—gone "soft." No longer content to make movies that feature tons of "dick and fart" jokes (as the director himself labels his comedy), Smith apparently got married, had a kid, and found his inner Garry Marshall. Good for him, bad for his core audience.
Listen, I'm all for finding your self. I'm in favor of branching out, trying new things, stretching your creative boundaries. But when someone like Kevin Smith decides to make an ooey-gooey "dramady" about fathers, daughters and what's really important in life…well, I get a little leery. I mean, Jersey Girl is like Metallica announcing they're going on a worldwide concert tour playing covers of Enya and Kenny G. How many of you would pelt dead chickens at the stage out of anger and frustration?
To be sure, Jersey Girl isn't a bad movie. In fact, as romantic comedies go you can certainly do a lot worse. Smith has toned down his patented vulgarities and comic asides in lieu of cuteness and sentimentality. There is no Jay or Silent Bob to stir things up. While a few of his regular players—i.e., Matt Damon, Jason Lee, et cetera—make cameos, generally speaking it's all a lot of gooey mush about stuff like love, responsibility, and finding yourself. What happened to Smith's patented rants about comic books, the female anatomy, and Star Wars? Apparently Smith has grown up, and some of us are too immature to come along for the ride.
Ben Affleck is effective as Ollie, a man who can't seem to find his place in the world after a piece of it is taken away from him. His transformation from cocky player to depressed deadbeat to revitalized father makes for good, if sometimes bland, characterization. The supporting team—including a grizzled George Carlin as his alcoholic but lovable father and Liv Tyler as his love interest—do the best they can with their roles, though some of them are thinly drawn by Smith's standards. Carlin spends much of the time acting like an old boozehound while actors like Jason Biggs overacts in a movie that he's mistaken for an American Pie sequel. Smith's cracking dialogue pops up once in a blue moon but often takes a back seat to cuteness and a romantic story that often bores. And for those of you excited by the prospect of Ben and J-Lo together again (what, you didn't get enough with Gigli?), Jersey Girl may be a disappointment; Jennifer gets killed off in the first 20 minutes of the film (no hate letters, everyone should know this by now whether you've seen the movie or not).
For those who hated Smith's previous films, Jersey Girl will be like a breath of fresh air. For those who love his movies, Jersey Girl will either be a slap in your face or a nice change of pace. For this reviewer, it was somewhere in between. I enjoyed Jersey Girl for what it is: syrupy comedy sugarcoated with a bit of Smith's spice (finally, the guy's made a date movie you can take a date to!). Unlike Smith's previous movies, I don't think I'll be revisiting Jersey Girl quite as much, though a much more contrasting audience may feel vastly different.
Though the DVD case says 1.85:1, the fact is that Jersey Girl is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Generally speaking this is a good, if not great, transfer. There are some areas in the transfer where the image looks a tad bit soft (some edge enhancement and haloing is present). The blacks are all solidly rendered while the colors appear bright and clear. While this transfer isn't going to win any awards, fans of the film will be happy to see it looks pretty good (and hey, no matter how you slice it, the thing still looks better than Clerks).
The sound is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. Not surprisingly, this sound mix isn't overly exciting. Because this is a dialogue driving comedy and not an action flick ala The Mummy Returns, Jersey Girl feels like it has a limited soundtrack. The front and middle speakers were all engaged but the back speakers were silent except for a few spots in the mix. All aspects of the mix are free and clear of any hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles.
Miramax has included a few more supplements than the film probably needs, but at least they feature Smith's wry, deft touch to make them entertaining. Starting off the disc are two commentary tracks: the first is by Smith and Affleck, and the second by Smith, producer Scott Mosier, and one of Smith's cohorts (though not a star of this film), Jason "Jay" Mewes. Never let it be said that Smith is not an entertaining man. Both of these tracks sport some big laughs and a lot of candid discussions about the actors, production, story, ideas behind the screenplay, and even Ben's relationship with Jennifer Lopez and its subsequent effect on the film. The second track covers much of the same ground technically, but with Mewes's input and questions about the film (can you say the words "throwing a dog a bone?").
Next up is "Roadside Attractions," short films made by Smith for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno that feature Smith traveling the country post 9/11 in search of odd, strange, and often hilarious people and places. Four of these installments are included, and each is pretty dang funny.
Two featurettes are included. The first is a discussion between Smith and Affleck titled "From Mallrats to Jersey Girl: Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck Talk Shop" that features the actor and director discussing their history together while ribbing each other along the way. The second featurette, a behind-the-scenes special, is just your typical promotional fluff with talking head interviews and clips from the film.
Finally there are text-based interviews with director Kevin Smith, actors Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, George Carlin, Raquel Castro, and Matt Damon, producer Scott Mosier, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, production designer Robert Holtzman, and costume designer Juliet Polcsa, as well as a few coming attractions for other Miramax titles.
Jersey Girl ends up being a (usually) non-offensive romantic comedy that may appeal to those who either hated Smith's previous films or can't stand constant swearing. For Smith's diehard brood this film will be a sore disappointment.
But still, no dick and fart jokes make Judge Naugle a sad man.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck
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