(If you’re curious, my review process. It’s also pasted at the end of this post. I don’t believe in Rotten Tomatoes. I just believe in me.)
(***all-purpose SPOILER ALERT*** there may be some in this review)
SW SCORE: 21
2 out of 5 🐙
I saw this movie back in 2004 and I wrote up the following review at that time. I thought about editing and making it appear as if I was reflecting on it from today. But I decided to print it as is with some inserted notes (denoted by two asterisks**) to clarify some of my dated comments. It’s a kind of time capsule that way. Hold on to your butts.
I’m not a Ben Affleck hater. I know it’s chic to hate both halves of what was once Bennifer (**back in aught-4, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez had been a huge celebrity couple. As we all know now, it didn’t work out.) But it never got to that point with me. I save hatred for the MPAA, a hypocritical bunch of old assholes, or Saddam Hussein(**this was back when the 2nd Iraq war was in its very early days). I’m not sure which is worse. But I never felt like hating Ben Affleck.
That said, the man is in fucking trouble. If you look back at every major studio “starrer” (movies in which he was the lead star) that he has been in since Good Will Hunting (**remember, in 2004, Affleck was on an epic run of movie flops), you will see some serious shit. Before Jersey Girl, his latest mediocre offering, the films that span the gap to ‘Hunting are: Paycheck, Gigli (no comment needed), Daredevil, The Sum of All Fears (or what studio execs feel when they have Affleck opening a film nowadays – **this is what I thought passed for a good joke back then), Changing Lanes, Bounce, Reindeer Games, Dogma (the other Kevin Smith movie that sucked), Forces of Nature and Armageddon. That’s not a good resume. Sure, Armageddon made tons of cash and I enjoyed it for its action movie-ness. It was so over the top and ridiculous that I couldn’t help it. But the rest of those films range from mediocre to awful. Changing Lanes was a decent film, but it was no blockbuster. Mr. Affleck isn’t cast to make small movies. Sum of All Fears may have made money, but it won’t make anyone forget Harrison Ford. Only 3 out of 11 could be considered successes of any sort. That is not a good percentage.
Despite this ominous history, I went to a cheap second run theatre and went to see Jersey Girl because I think Kevin Smith is great (**I don’t think this anymore and it makes me sad because I really did enjoy his early stuff) and I really, really wanted to believe that he would deliver. It’s kind of like when your parents tell you there is no Santa Claus. That’s how I felt after watching this movie.
Where was the offensive, quick-witted dialogue that Smith fans have come to expect? I understand that this is a “family” comedy and that “normal” families don’t talk like Jay and Silent Bob. But it’s one thing to limit your vocabulary and another thing entirely to fill your film with mawkish, clichéd over the top lines. Not one scene possesses subtle dialogue. If it’s a scene about how a father loves his daughter, the words “I love you because you are my daughter and fathers love daughters” would fit right in with Smith’s dialogue. Everything is so on the nose that you would have to be a geriatric orangutan not to get the smarmy message. It’s really sad and somewhat expected to see a once edgy master drift into this. Like Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin before him, Kevin Smith has turned his edge in for a butter knife.
The movie starts out relatively innocently with Ben Affleck playing a high-powered publicist, Ollie Trinkie, who is in love with a gorgeous New York city book editor, Gertrude (played by J-Lo). He proposes. She accepts. He knocks her up. She dies in childbirth. (**not for nothing, but that’s a pretty dark way to start a romcom). Ollie flips out at a major work function and is banned from the publicity business. I found this a bit strange since the mantra of publicity is “there’s no such thing as bad press” and that’s all he’s guilty of.
He’s forced to move back to Jersey to live with his father, played by the cranky but still mildly humorous George Carlin (**RIP). If he only had better dialogue to work with. Seven years pass and Ollie is a devoted daddy. There are no real problems. He still tries to go to the city and get publicist gigs but gets turned down every time because of his legendary gaffe.
That’s the conflict in the movie. There is no conflict. He’s happy enough taking care of Gertie, his daughter, in Highland, New Jersey. Only the underdeveloped romance between Liv Tyler and him adds any kind of complication to the film. Oliie is reminded of his old life when he is forced to address a hostile town meeting. Affleck’s character is supposed to be a kick ass bullshit artist. But Smith, apparently incapable of writing kick ass bullshit, plays music over Ollie’s speech to the crowd. There is a major rule in writing and it applies to every genre. You are supposed to SHOW, not TELL. We never see Affleck’s primo bullshit. We only hear about it afterwards with a conversation between Tyler and him. You are better than this, Kevin Smith. Ollie finally decides to pursue his publicist dream again by contacting the only friend he has left in the business: Arthur Brickman, a former assistant played by Jason Biggs who still can nail a nice, honest guy who you really want to like better than most young actors in the business (**Biggs was still a pretty famous movie actor then). Arthur hooks him up with a surefire interview and Ollie is finally (with only ten minutes left in the film) forced to make a choice. He has to decide whether to leave for New York, thereby shattering his kid’s world, or stay in Jersey. (**Looking back now, this whole choice is not difficult or even necessary. They can’t commute into the city like 8 billion other Jersey residents?).
But it’s not just the plot that is without. Affleck overacts throughout the movie. There are brief flashes where he showed some genuine emotions like he did in ‘Good Will Hunting’, but the rest of it just rings untrue. The rest of the cast is fine. They don’t embarrass themselves, but they are forced to work with embarrassing dialogue. The direction in this movie is sloppy and over indulgent. The scenes drag on forever. At one point, Affleck’s character even makes fun of himself for talking too much and then CONTINUES TO TALK FOR TWO MORE MINUTES. It was the world’s longest and most clichéd monologue in the history of recent film, or at least it felt that way. The cinematography, Kevin Smith’s self-professed weakness, isn’t embarrassing like in his old movies, but it’s nothing to celebrate.
I really wanted to like this movie. I really hope Kevin Smith goes back to writing edgy, rude dialogue. (**Other than Zack and Miri Make a Porno, I can’t say Smith ever returned to his grand old days.) I really hope Ben Affleck, who has the power to get any movie made (**This sure AF ain’t the truth anymore but I will say he’s a fine director), starts picking good scripts. Hollywood is a fickle town and you can only make so many bombs (**I’m not so sure this is true anymore. I was young and idealistic then.).
(1) Shark Wrighter (SW) Score: Based on a sum of 5 sub-scores (acting, directing, writing/story, effects: cinematography &/or animation &/or effects, editing) with 1 being terrible and 10 being terrific.
(2) Octopuses (0-5 🐙, with 5 being fantastic and 0 being feces)
(3) Octopuses are my unquantifiable feeling…not that SW score is scientific…but this one is even less so
(4) ++ This optional section includes any incredibly *brilliant observations that don’t fit into simple quantitative slices like the scores and octopuses *(they are likely NOT brilliant)