I have a confession. I actually feel kinda sorry for Ben Affleck. I realize this isn’t a very popular opinion in these “post Bennifer” days, but you gotta admit, he really is an easy target. Part of the reason we enjoy picking on him so much is because he is something most of us are not: rich, charming, good looking and most surprisingly of all, genuinely talented. True Mr. Affleck has not had many opportunities to exhibit said talent (although I have not seen Gigli myself, I will take everyone’s word for it) and part of the blame should go to him for choosing his opportunities so poorly (although we can take relief in his recent vow not to make any more action movies), but when he was good (Chasing Amy, Daredevil – even though the rest of the movie was extremely disappointing) he showed the potential to be great. With “Jersey Girl”, although he may not quite be there yet, he comes the closest he has so far and best of all he finally seems to be going in the right direction.
This is very easily his best film since Chasing Amy, and had the potential of being Kevin Smith’s best film period had it not been sunk by contrivance in the third act. However, I am willing to overlook this for the sheer amount of heart this film contains. As corny as is sounds, and inevitably is, one cannot help but love this movie and its big sloppy message about the importance of family. The jokes are sharp, the tone is earnest and the supporting cast is also very good, particularly Stephen Root.
The film opens with Kevin Smith’s take on “kids say the darnedest things” as the students of a first grade Catholic school class take their turns reading essays about their familes. This is where we are introduced to Gertie Trinke (Raquel Castro) who tells the story of how her father Ollie (Ben Affleck) and mother Gertrude (Jennifer Lopez) met and fell in love. We learn that Ollie was a very successful music publicist living big in New York City who was forced to give it all up when Gertrude died during childbirth with Gertie, resulting in a total meltdown causing him to lose his job. We also learn of how he moved back to Jersey with his functioning-alcoholic father Bart (a marvelous turn by George Carlin) who a*s-kicked him into taking responsibility for his little girl.
We rejoin the story in the present day with Ollie now a street cleaner like his father, who has devoted his entire life to his little girl. But, despite this seeming domestic bliss Ollie still yearns to return to the big life in the city, continually going for meaningless interviews with people who have absolutely no intention of hiring him. There are some amusing scenes which illustrate Ollie’s straightforward style of parenting and Raquel Castro is the perfect child actor with a sense of comic timing far beyond her young years. The rapport that she and Affleck have in this film is so effortless and natural that it is possible to forget that they are not actually related.
This also is where Liv Tyler gets added to the mix as Maya, the ultimate fanboy dream girl (she works at a video store, is incredibly smart, looks like Liv Tyler and has a mouth like a sailor) and the inevitable love interest for Ollie. Ms. Tyler, too, proves her comedic chops, although it is not hard to understand how it would be greatly amusing to see Liv Tyler talking about how often she masturbates. Unfortunately this is where things start to fall apart a bit as the rest of the story starts to devolve into “standard-dramedy-routine-where-imature-male-figure-must-choose-adulthood-and-family-over-himself”, complete with rushing to get to the school play in time. Although the ending was subverted slightly by the fact that the school play they were participating in was “Sweeny Todd”, the payoff had been telegraphed so far in advance that any comedic teeth it may have had were filed down to nubs. Yet, despite all of this predictability, I still found myself moved by the performance of Mr. Affleck.
This is a movie about growing up and taking responsibility for one’s actions and Affleck does a wonderful job of taking his usual “smarmy jerk” character, and turning it into an honest study of a grown man’s “coming of age”.
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