The International Writers Magazine:DVD Review
Girl (DVD Review)
Ben Affleck can act? Strike the question
mark- Ben Affleck can act! In the first film I ever saw him in,
Chasing Amy, by Kevin Smith, I had no doubt. Then, I saw
every film hes made since, and I assumed that Chasing
Amy was the exception. Having heard the reviews, last year,
of the latest Smith-Affleck film, Jersey Girl, I figured
it was on par with the execrable Dogma, or the other film
that starred the Bennifer combo of Affleck and Jennifer Lopez-
Gigli, which has already become one of Hollywoods
I was wrong. Jersey
Girl is a very good film, Smiths best since Chasing Amy,
and thankfully void of the increasingly grating Jay and Silent Bob comedy
team. Its definitely a formula feel good family film,
but not a tearjerker, and so well made it rises above formula to classical
levels, and thus more closely like My Dog Skip or October
Sky than a Kevin Smith film, which is why I think it
was so critically savaged. That, the whole Affleck-Lopez bullshit, and
the marketing campaign which made it seem like an Affleck-Liv Tyler
romance, where its really a father-daughter tale more akin to
the excellent High Grant film, About A Boy, of a few years back.
One would think studio execs would have learned to not mismarket a film
after the masterful psychodrama Eyes Wide Shut was marketed as
a sexy thriller, or The Good Girl as a light comedy.
The film starts off recounting the marriage of Oliver and Gertrude Trinke
(Affleck and Lopez) in a short montage that smartly captures the marriage
at intimate moments. Then, Gertrude dies in childbirth, of an aneurysm,
fifteen minutes into the film, and Oliver moves back in with his father
Pop (George Carlin). Within a month Oliver loses his job when, while
dealing with his baby daughter, he badmouths actor Will Smith, whom
his publicity firm handles. Flash forward six years and little Gertie
(Raquel Castro) is now the apple of Ollies eye. He works in the
public works department of a small New Jersey town, Highlands, with
Pop, but dreams of getting back in the Manhattan action.
Along the way Ollie meets up with Maya (Liv Tyler), a video store clerk,
and the two have a sweet, old-fashioned romance, where things are implied,
never explicit. Tyler shows real acting chops for she is not Hollywood
gorgeous nor thin, and never overacts. When Ollies old underling
(Jason Biggs) lands him an interview tensions rise between him, Gertie,
Pop, and Liv over moving back to New York. But, sitting in the waiting
room, for his interview, in conflict with Gerties school music
piece, Ollie bumps into the actor Will Smith and they have a well-written
conversation that is very realistic, given the scene, which could have
easily devolved into a confrontation over Ollies diss, years earlier.
This is when the lone cliché kicks in, like in Chasing Amy.
In the former film it was the kiss in the rain scene, while in Jersey
Girl its a late scene where Affleck rushes back from a job
interview to star in his daughters musical performance. Yet, even
that is mitigated by the fact that the musical scene is the throat-slitting
scene from Sweeney Todd, and the rest of the film is so chock
full of well written scenes before and after- like when Pop admits to
a fear of dying alone, that the lone feint into cliché is forgivable.
The writing is so good that this trite scene actually gets one to believe
it could happen- and want that it should happen.
Smith shows that his writing chops have finally matured and Im
shocked this film was not nominated for best screenplay, for, as a writer,
I especially appreciate the risks such an endeavor takes. He really
reinvents a genre piece and shows that genre, when done well, becomes
merely classical for, and this film is done exceedingly well. It is
really a tale of expectations and reality, loss and ambition, and Smith
shows that he could be the inheritor of the mantel Woody Allen wore
as a great seriocomic filmmaker. In the hands of a lesser director this
film could have kamikazed two ways- it could have been a clichéd
romance with Gerties having to cope with a dread stepmom, or it
could have been a showcase for a bumbling dad and his wiseass kid, replete
with cutesy tearjerker moments. By refraining these two urges, and the
realistic dialogue, the film transcends its genre.
There are many moments that resonate: early on when older Gertie is
fretting over her weight during pregnancy, before an awards show, Ollie
reassures her, pushing her out the door, until Gertie demands just
two more minutes, or Ollies and Mayas first meeting at the
video store, when hes looking to rent porno with his daughters
kid flick, among others. And George Carlin shows he also has acting
chops. Hes a grandpa any kid would dream of. Liv Tyler can act,
too, as her eyes belie the things her character says, in trying not
to impose her desires into the father-daughter relationship.
Smith has always been a very erratic director- either good (Clerks,
Chasing Amy, Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back) or bad (Mallrats,
Dogma), but this film, hopefully, will be for him what Annie
Hall was for Woody Allen- the ushering in of a new phase of maturity
that heralds a personal golden age. This truly is a good family film
that shows good writing can trump a lack of sex or violence without
dumbing things down to Disney level vomitus, or tacking on a specious
moral at the end.
As for the rest of the DVD? The commentaries are nothing special, as
Smith and Affleck, then Smith and Jason Mewes, who played Jay in earlier
Smith films, basically ramble with no relation to what is appearing
onscreen- the typical commentary fellatio. There are some funny moments
from The Tonight Show, where Smith does Roadside Attractions
segments, an interview with Smith and Affleck that is a bit more revealing
than the commentaries. The film transfer is standard, but clean, and
the films soundtrack resonates well.
But, this film is so good that even mediocrity in the technical aspects
of the DVD could not forestall a recommendation. The ultimate one can
hope for from a film is excellence and novelty. Too often you get neither.
That Jersey Girl only has one should not be seen as a demerit,
but a booster of its worth. See this film, and be ready to toss your
preconceptions of the genre, and its participants. Hmm
is novel, after all.
© Dan Schneider Oct 2005
Visit Dan at www.Cosmoetica.com
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