Judge Patrick Bromley is waiting for a movie to come out with a title confusingly similar to Star Wars.
It takes a special girl to know exactly what she wants.
No, it's not that Jersey Girl. Columbia TriStar is attempting to cash in on current name recognition with this decidedly Affleck-free offering from 1992.
Facts of the Case
Toby Mastellone (Jami Gertz, The Lost Boys, Twister), the "Jersey Girl" of the film's title, has come to a crossroads in her big-haired, fake-nailed existence. Tired of feeling like just another low-class gal from the Garden State, Toby decides to pursue true love with Sal (Dylan McDermott, Hardware, The Practice), a big shot sales rep (he wears a tie!) from Manhattan. While the changes Toby is making in her life begin to distance her from friends and family, Sal questions the effect his new relationship will have on his career and reputation. Are the two willing to risk everything they have for a chance at love? (If you think they won't, please unplug your computer from the cave wall and bludgeon yourself.)
Jersey Girl is a song in search of a movie. Someone must have heard Tom Waits's eponymous title song (performed here by Jack Mack and the Heart Attack—I love their early work) and decided it would make a great title for a movie. Unfortunately, that seems to be where the creative well ran dry on this baby.
From the opening shots of Jersey Girl, the whole thing feels terribly dated. The opening credits, with their fluorescent neon animation and freakishly dismissable early '90s crap-pop, instantly pigeonhole the film to a specific era. That's not the end of the world—lots of great movies feel dated (have you watched Midnight Cowboy lately?), but the very best romantic qualities have a timelessness that this one sorely lacks. Everything about the film, from the production design to the costuming to the music to the direction, while perhaps seeming quite contemporary in 1992, inhibits any chances of it transcending its setting. Even two or three years later, the film had to feel like little more than a time capsule (leaving one to wonder why it's being released twelve years later, but more on that to come). There's just nothing left to connect with.
The whole thing smacks of a rip-off of that other early '90s romantic comedy Goliath, Pretty Woman, cribbing the same "Trashy/Sweet Girl falls in love with/transforms Uptight Businessman" formula that the latter film exploited to great effect. That film, for all of its seedy subject matter, had a genuine innocence and sweetness to the proceedings—we believed that yes, perhaps these two people could actually love one another. Jersey Girl has no interest in any such character logic—it wants the lower-class girl to fall in love with the high-class guy no matter what. When the Jami Gertz character finally proclaims her love for Dylan McDermott, the movie hasn't earned it—it just feels desperate and sad.
Poor Jami Gertz. She wasn't meant to carry a movie. She's not supposed to be anything but a supporting player, and even in that capacity she's kind of forgettable. (Except for Muffy on Square Pegs. Muffy rules.) With a career spanning twenty-odd years and close to thirty films on her resume, I'm still hard pressed to name a role in which she was a standout. I say this not to bash Jami Gertz—I've got nothing against her, and am more than happy to watch her compete with Annabeth Gish for parts. I say this only to make the point that she can't carry a movie. This is especially true when the movie she's attempting to carry requires more of her than slack-jawed nostril flaring. Here she sort of/not really tries to pull off a Jersey accent, but it's only detectable in every eighth line or so. Actually, the only reason we know she's a "Jersey Girl" (aside from the over-the-top costume design) is that the script keeps requiring characters to say those words: "I know I'm just a Jersey girl, but…" or "Look at those Jersey girls!" And let us not forget the shudder-inducing repetition of Mr. Jack Mack: "Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la. I'm in love with a Jersey Girl." See?
In case Jack Mack and Jami Gertz don't paint the whole picture, the film's photography is designed to depict a certain "Jersey tackiness," but succeeds all too well—it's garishly steeped in electric pinks and greens and bathed in the artificiality of neon diner signs. This is an ugly movie—which kind of detracts from the breezy, sunny tone it strives for. And, speaking of sunny, I don't believe any actual sunlight ever touches the skin of the actors. The outdoor scenes are marred by the gray-orange haziness of the sky, which is either due to a Jersey pollution problem or a horrible transfer (more on that to come). Either way, it's hard to care about whether or not these two kids will make it work when you're really just concerned with the ozone levels.
Back to Pretty Woman. Dylan McDermott, in the Richard Gere/Uptight Businessman role, is no Richard Gere. For all of his soft-spoken stiffness in Pretty Woman, we wanted Vivian to end up with Gere because we liked him. (At least, I did—but then, I have an unhealthy preoccupation with Pretty Woman. I'm the King of Wishful Thinking.) McDermott's character is so loathsome for 90 percent of this movie that when it comes time for his dramatic change of heart, it's already too late—we just want Toby to run very, very far away from him, change of heart or not. Watching Sal chain-smoke and squint-slash-leer at Toby on their dates, I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that in any other movie, this would be the wrong guy, and Toby would realize it just in time to fall in love with her sensitive best friend or a sensitive ranch hand or whatever. Partly because of the way the character is written and partly because of McDermott's slimy, slimy performance, Sal is too unpleasant for us to hope for the stereotypical "happy" ending. In fact, having Toby realize that Sal sucks and choosing independence would have been a perfectly serviceable ending to the film, but do you think the filmmakers would let it go down like that? (If you think they will, please plug your computer back into the cave wall and order something much larger to bludgeon yourself with, to arrive in four to six weeks.)
Jersey Girl's message, ultimately, is that true happiness can only be found when you're true to yourself (and yet I'm perfectly happy amidst my web of lies and deception, so what does that tell you?). Okay, let's pretend I buy that—Toby realizes that she shouldn't change for any man, that she's proud of who she is and that she's ready to stand on her own two stiletto-heeled feet. That's great, but what about Sal? He has to undergo a complete transformation before he can be with Toby—or are we expected to believe that "this is who he really is?" Because I never thought for one second that he was anything but a slimy, slimy opportunist. Shouldn't he stay true to that?
Overall, the film is too mechanical and artificial to open up your heart to. Good romantic comedy, no matter how clichéd it may be, is (at the very least) sincere in its efforts. Jersey Girl isn't.
And now, the disc. Oh, the disc. It's really bad—and I mean really bad in the sense of "not at all good." This is pretty easily the worst-looking disc I've seen since Citizen Toxie—except that Troma movies look like crap to begin with, so I really can't even count that. The film is presented in a 1.33:1 full frame format: Strike One, but not the end of the world. What I take such issue with is the transfer itself, but only because it's very, very bad. It's filled with grain and specking, with some kind of shadow that fades in and out of the image, darkening one side of the picture. The colors destabilize from shot to shot, sometimes within the same frame. It's impossible that any kind of attention was paid to creating the transfer—the thing looks a great deal like a work print. The only extras on the disc (apparently so the studio can claim there are some) are those automatic pop-up bonus trailers for other Columbia TriStar romantic comedies. I recognize that Jersey Girl is not one of their flagship titles, but the entire production feels lazy and a little bit offensive to those of us that are at all concerned with a modicum of quality.
Which leads me to the question, why is this disc even being put out? I'm not all that aware of a massive demand for this film's DVD release, which is okay—more than once I've been thrilled to learn some niche film that only myself and four other people even care about is coming out, but that's because I'm a fan of that particular movie. So, is Jersey Girl being distributed strictly for the hardcore fans? And if so, why does Columbia TriStar want to insult and alienate them by giving them a version this terrible? If they don't wish to spend the extra time or resources required to clean up the transfer a bit, why bother putting the thing out there at all?
It's astounding to me that the same studio that prides itself on its Superbit line would release such a sub-par disc; continuing this trend in quality will quickly and correctly label Columbia TriStar as the new Artisan. This shoddy new crop of bare-bones, full frame releases feels like nothing more than Columbia's attempt to pad their catalog. It's like scribbling some lines on paper and calling your book the biggest. Fans of this film, and I suspect there are at least a closeted few, deserve better. If you absolutely must own this movie, tape it off HBO. Your copy will look just as good, and you'll save yourself some money.
The Court finds Columbia TriStar very, very guilty and suspends all DVD privileges until significant improvement is shown. Jersey Girl is sentenced back to relative obscurity, and Jami Gertz—charged as an accessory—is to be relegated to an indistinct sitcom on CBS. Oh, wait…that's already been done.
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