Jersey Girl

written and directed by Kevin Smith

starring Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler and Jennifer Lopez

review by Stephen Notley

Jersey Girl is the new Kevin Smith movie starring Ben Affleck, so if you're one of those people who despises Ben Affleck it goes without saying you're not gonna wanna see this movie. Even worse for you folks is the fact that Jersey Girl, like the reviled Gigli, is a Bennifer movie, which is to say it stars not only Ben Affleck but Jennifer Lopez; you Affleck-loathers probably don't even need to read the rest of this review.

For the folks not hypnotized into hatred of Affleck by the Bennifer phenomenon, Jersey Girl is a perfectly pleasant little film about a family, a nice little thing where Ben Affleck learns to be a good dad and a better person. Sounds pretty insipid, but really it's not so bad. Writer-director Kevin Smith is known for his energetic dialogue and slightly crass sensibilities in movies like Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. In Jersey Girl he holds off on indulging his often bad sense of humor so the whole movie has a more restrained, grown-up feel, like it's trying to be respectable.

The setup is fairly simple: Affleck is a hotshot music promoter in New York City just married to Jennifer Lopez. Then something happens and as a result of wife-just-died-in-childbirth-related stress Affleck shoots his mouth off, loses his fancy PR job and is forced to retreat to his dad George Carlin's place in New Jersey to raise his infant daughter. Cut forward 7 years and we find Affleck as the pretty-good dad of a fairly charming 7-year-old girl, still stuck in Jersey, shyly fending off the amorous advances of Liv Tyler, preparing to perform in a father-daughter show, and secretly wishing he had his old hotshot asshole PR job back.

I've never quite understood the loathing people have for Affleck; to me he seems like a perfectly solid leading man, tall, good-looking, with a lot of asshole arrogance but a stand-up guy when it counts. Sure he's made some crappy movies, but so has Nick Cage and you don't see people lining up to despise *him*, do you? At any rate, Affleck is pretty much on the money here as a guy who has to be believable as both a selfish prick and a good dad.

Jersey Girl has a fairly simple theme --quit pining over your pre-dad life and concentrate on being a good father-- but plays it out in a likeably relaxed way as an honestly intended look into the stresses and internal conflicts of parenthood, with lots of room for the characters to stretch out. George Carlin turns in a nicely grounded, straightforward performance as Affleck's dad. Carlin doesn't have to crack wise or even curse to have a calming, welcome presence in every scene he's in, scruffily helping out with the childrearing for while and then dumping the kid back on Affleck in order to teach him to pull his head out of his ass.

And then there's Raquel Castro, the 7-year-old who plays Gertie. She's pretty winning, with a huge J-Lo smile; it's eerily easy to imagine her as Bennifer's actual daughter. At 7 she's already probably smarter than her dad, and she and Affleck spar well in some amusingly crafted scenes.

Jersey Girl isn't tremendously powerful or meaningful or challenging, but by the same token it's also not tremendously offensive or annoying or frustrating. It's a middle-of-the-road kinda picture, a nice little film with a simple good heart, pleasing enough while you watch it but unlikely to stick in the mind. Not bad, but there are probably better movies to see.

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