If there’s anything more revolting than a smarmy, pseudo-clever
Kevin Smith, it’s an obscenely sentimental one; the sort of pitch for
the cheap seats where a hipper-than-thou filmmaker sells his soul for
the chicks and their pussy-whipped dates. I’m certainly no fan of Smith
in any form, but at least before this disaster he could pretend that he
cared little for the opinions of the mainstream. Now, he’s clearly
given up entirely, pasting together a slap-dash, half-hearted
tear-jearker that is so obvious and riddled with obligatory scenes that
it might have been spit out by a computer. It’s a bloody wreck, really;
a casualty of hubris, immaturity, and the naive belief that anyone
would want to watch Ben Affleck act all warm and cuddly with a
7-year-old girl. Still, Smith does understand our need to see Jennifer
Lopez die before our eyes, which she does barely ten minutes in. But
for the time she occupies — nay, inhales — the screen, she
reinforces every negative belief thinking people have about the world’s
least deserving star. It’s not enough to give us bickering scenes that
feel like an especially bad episode of I Love Lucy must
have that childbirth moment where she screams, roars with anger, says
she can’t take it anymore, then blissfully checks out after the world’s
most subtle aneurysm. One would think she was passing away from a
sudden need to take a sweet little nap. But die she must, which means
that at the very least we are spared any possible comparison to the
vile Gigli.

Ben Affleck is Ollie, a high-profile music publicist in New York
City, who is forced to deal with the loss of his wife on the same day
that he becomes a father. Needless to say, the Act One Ollie is a
heartless, career-driven bastard; the sort of man who prefers talking
on the phone with clients to changing diapers (the heel). Ollie passes
off his responsibilities to his father Bart (George Carlin!), who
sternly gives his son the standard lecture about “being a man” and
“taking care of your daughter.” Again, Kevin Smith can kiss my ass, but
did he really write dialogue this banal? Finally, Bart refuses
to do his son’s bidding and Ollie is forced to take the baby to an
important press conference. Poop and diaper jokes abound, and Ollie
cracks up when the kid starts crying, which prompts the gathered crowd
to revolt. Ollie roars obscenities, insults guest of honor Will Smith,
and blasts the entire profession of rock journalism. Of course he’s
fired, and he returns to New Jersey in shame to live with his father
and sweep streets for a living.

Fast forward seven years. Ollie is a proud papa, his daughter
Gertrude is cute as a button, and for some unexplained reason, nobody
(including Carlin) has aged a day. Ollie and Gertie talk like
contemporaries, by which I mean that Affleck effortlessly converses
like a dippy seven-year-old. While driving, Ollie utters the only
agreeable line in the entire movie, although he even manages to fuck
that up. After Gertie insists on seeing Cats, Ollie snaps,
“Cats was the second worst thing to happen to New York City.” I’m
assuming the first was 9/11, although having seen Cats myself,
I might be tempted to reverse the order. Lets just call it a draw.
Ollie continues to schedule interviews in a desperate attempt to return
to the music biz, one of which involves, ohmygod, Matt Damon! Attempted
humor has rarely been as strained. Then, before you can say meet-cute,
Ollie runs into Maya (Liv Tyler) at the local video store. Maya is, as
expected, zany and outspoken, peppering poor Ollie with questions about
his decision to rent a porno flick. Maya even comes over to Ollie’s
house later that night, at first to apologize for unintentionally
insulting Ollie’s dead wife, then to ask him out for lunch. Maya even
offers to give Ollie a mercy fuck because he hasn’t had sex since J
Lo’s expiration. It sounds wild and crazy, of course, but nothing any
of these people do or say during these scenes is remotely plausible.

Before I proceed, let me remark on the numerous musical interludes Jersey Girl
burdens us with. I lost count at ten, but I’d bet good money that no
film in the past fifty years has had more. One of the least inspiring
involves Ollie and Gertie walking through Central Park, where they end
their day with a carriage ride. There’s an even worse one near the end
of the film after father and daughter fight, and I’m still wondering
how Bruce Springsteen’s 9/11 anthem “My City of Ruins” relates to a
brat’s snot-filled tantrum. Ollie agrees to Maya’s advances, but as
they are undressing, they are — sound the alarm — interrupted by
Gertie. And that’s as close as we come to seeing Tyler’s breasts,
although considering how piss-poor of an actress she is, I’d just as
soon see her chest filled with lead as covered with lust-filled sweat.
Ollie also comes into his own as a blue-collar man, wowing the locals
with his command of pipe repair. His “big speech” at a city council
meeting (which we see but do not hear because of a damned musical
interlude) even saves the day, which of course was motivated by looking
into his daughter’s puppy-dog eyes.

Eventually, Ollie is tempted by the city, securing an interview
at a top firm, followed by his announcement that he’s going to move
back to Manhattan. Changing gears quite rapidly, Ollie roars about
wanting to get away from his father, resenting his daughter, and
needing to feel connected to the world of celebrity once again. The
daughter runs upstairs in tears, shouts that she hates her father, and
he retorts with a line that Smith may or may not know was ripped
directly from the script of Kramer vs Kramer: “I hate you right
back, you little shit.” And oh my heavens, but wouldn’t you know it —
Ollie’s interview occurs at the exact same time as Gertie’s big
performance in the school talent show. Ollie drives to the interview,
but changes his mind about the job after a five-minute chat with Will
Smith (!) in the waiting room. You see, the Fresh Prince himself gets
all gooey about his kids and all, and Ollie sees the light. He rushes
home, flying through tollbooths, and meeting roadblocks with fists
raised. He literally runs to the school, is seen outside the glass just
as Gertie arrives on stage, and manages, in the nick of time, to take
his place in the show right where he’s needed. And it’s so funny, is it
not, that Gertie insists on a particularly rude scene from Sweeney Todd?
Let’s see here: this is a Catholic school and the acts weren’t screened
in advance by snooty nuns? The lewd piece causes a teacher waiting in
the wings to faint, and the audience to react with stunned silence. But
wait! There’s ol’ reliable — the gruff man who starts the “slow clap”
until the entire crowd erupts with joy. I would give all that I have to
be making this shit up.

So here we are, living in a world where Kevin Smith gladly
pushes fatherhood like crack, and Ben Affleck takes the words of Will
Smith as a recipe for living the good life. Where we know we are
witnessing the “heartfelt” because Ben Affleck is gazing into the sky
while seated at the foot of J Lo’s grave. Where we are meant to cackle
at jokes about “crotch rot” as it might affect infants. And where the
most prominent recurring joke involves a little girl’s refusal to flush
the toilet. Little more than easily digestible, lowbrow pap, Jersey Girl is far worse than easy-to-hate junk like New York Minute and Catwoman
because it cares deeply about its characters. We either embrace these
hurting, wounded souls, or we are deemed overly cynical, mean-spirited
cranks who take the world far too seriously. If we mock the true love
between a father and his daughter, we are unfeeling and perverse,
perhaps even dead inside. But familial bonds should always be more than
recycled sit-com antics and sentiments too cheap even for the likes of Lifetime.
The love of a little girl over money and fame? Small town values over
the pop and passion of the Big Apple? Playing nice with a willing tart
like Liv Tyler out of respect for a bitchy wife nearly a decade in the
earth? No version of Kevin Smith could believe such patent nonsense.
And I ask you — I resurrected the McDonaldland Massacre for this? Damn

Review Posted: 9.9.04

About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
Follow Matt: @mattcale52