A review of “Jersey Girl” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual content

Run Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

 

 

Kevin Smith has been liberally quoted as stating that Jersey Girl is his most personal work to date. It’s also his most conventional, lacking the edginess and desperation that personified Chasing Amy, Dogma and Clerks.

Charming children changing surly adults into humane and respectable human beings.  It’s been done before and it’s been done better – think Kolya, I am Sam, One Fine Day, Jerry Maguire, etc.

Look past Bennifer and you’ve got Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, both of whom turn in grounded performances in this family comedy/drama.  Affleck is Ollie Trinke, a hyper-ambitious music publicist at the top of his game.  Love alters the picture drastically; Ollie meets and marries Gertrude (Lopez) and quick as a blink she’s with child.  A tragic birthing accident finds Ollie the single father of a baby girl, highly distraught and floundering with his future.

Ollie is accustomed to slinging bullshit for a living, and childcare is not his oeuvre. He tips over the edge both personally and professionally, turning to cranky dad Bart (George Carlin) for help and sacrificing a stimulating life in Manhattan for a staid existence in the ‘burbs.

A chance meeting with beautiful video store clerk Maya (Liv Tyler) is the shot in the arm Ollie needs to right the wrongs of his stifling reality.  Not to mention opening his soul to his precocious grade-schooler Gertie (Raquel Castro).  After all, sometimes you have to forget about who you thought you were and come to terms with who you are (ugh).

Second act is too cut-and-dried considering that Ollie’s emotional makeover is accomplished off-camera, in the netherland between Gertie’s birth and hyper-growth into a clever second-grader.  The Big Conflict arrives in the guise of career vs. child, swanky professional move vs. following your heart.  And the ever-tumultuous job interview vs. grade school pageant.

Saccharine-sweet renovations require a least one tried and true element: the child should be artlessly sincere. Castro is fetching, but altogether too conscious of her adorable affect and the surrounding cameras. 

Lopez throws off sparks in her 14-minute, pre-death bow; Affleck remains an upstanding performer who has unfortunately allowed media attention to crowd his talents.  Best of show goes to Liv Tyler, in a surprisingly sweet and supportive execution that renders the sugariest moments palpably watchable.