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By Don R. Lewis | March 16, 2004

In a recent Q&A, writer/director Kevin Smith said when he saw “The Matrix,” he knew right there and then he’d never be “that type of filmmaker. The kind who reinvents the wheel.” After seeing “Jersey Girl,” I have to say he’s wrong. In this film Smith reinvents the romantic-comedy by making a film about a man in love with his kid.

Now settle down you sick-o, I don’t mean it like that! I just means in terms of loving someone so much that it completely changes the trajectory of your life. You are now willfully living your life because of someone other than yourself. That’s what “Jersey Girl” is about and it’s a truly great film.

Ollie (Affleck) is a big-time P.R. man in New York. As the result of a horrible situation, he soon finds himself a single dad, forced to raise his daughter Gertie all on his own. Well, he has his cranky, alcoholic dad (Carlin) there to help. As I said, this film has all the ear marks of any romantic comedy, but it’s done in a new way that gives life to a genre considered flat or dead.

I am an admittedly huge fan of Kevin Smith, but I didn’t hold high hopes for this film. I wasn’t sure he could pull off the comedy-drama. Plus, he was ditching Jay and Silent Bob and “Jersey Girl” just seemed to smack of being some kind of “I’m all grown up now-look at me!” kind of film. I was totally wrong in my assumption and I’m glad I was.

Instead “Jersey Girl” has more heart up on the screen than any film I’ve seen in recent years. I mean, we’re talking sappy, sweet, heart wrenching sentimentality that takes balls as big as softballs to put into a film in this era of cynicism. Sad as this is to say, Affleck’s inspired acting and Smith’s tender script are just begging to be skewered by cynics. But I found myself believing in the writing and performances all the way.

“Jersey Girl” still has all of that great Kevin Smith dialogue but without the dick and fart jokes. Personally I don’t think anyone handles Smith’s dialogue better than Affleck and he really shines here. I was also really blown away by Liv Tyler’s performance as the smart and sexy Maya. Her characterization and witty handling of Smith’s dialogue have given me newfound respect for someone who has started to seem sort of…sleepy in her roles as of late. Hell, everyone in this film is incredible including J-Lo, 7-year old Castro and George Carlin who drops a drama bomb at the tail end of the film that is heart breaking. Yes, I said drama bomb.

If I have one tiny quibble with “Jersey Girl,” it’s the soundtrack. In a couple of moments songs that are fairly well known come on in dramatic scenes and it’s just a touch too much. With writing and acting this good, we don’t need to be conked over the head with some sad or touching song to get the point of the scene. Simple background music would have sufficed.

But that complaint isn’t nearly enough to ruin a new water mark in the career of Kevin Smith. This film is grown-up as Smith is now writing as a dad and husband. Visually the film is a step up as well (it would be hard for Smith to step back. Snoogans!) as legendary lens man Vilmos Zsigmond helps to elevate this film with his subtle camera work and great lighting. I’m happy to say that this film works and works well. I hope people will allow themselves to give in and enjoy “Jersey Girl” for the great film it is and not let extenuating circumstances with the cast or a preconceived notion of Kevin Smith interfere with that.

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