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Miramax Pictures presents
Jersey Girl (2004)

"You're the only thing I was ever good at."
- Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck), to his daughter

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: September 07, 2004

Stars: Ben Affleck, Raquel Castro
Other Stars: Jason Biggs, George Carlin, Matt Damon, Jason Lee, Jennifer Lopez, Stephen Root, Mike Starr, Liv Tyler
Director: Kevin Smith

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual content including frank dialogue
Run Time: 01h:41m:00s
Release Date: September 07, 2004
UPC: 786936245660
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB+B+ B+

DVD Review

Many theories surround the box-office failure of Kevin Smith's Jersey Girl: the overexposure of the Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez romance, the failure of the Bennifer vehicle Gigli, the fact that it was a change of pace for the director, who specializes in talky, self-described "d*ck and fart joke" comedies. And sure, those factors may have influenced the picture's sub-$30 million bottom line (the lowest gross Smith has seen since he moved to big-budget features, and for his costliest film). But I think the simplest explanation is the most obvious: however you feel about Smith or his previous movies, it's hard to discount the fact that Jersey Girl is fairly ordinary, a re-hash of a hundred other movies with only a brief glimmer of the writer/director's signature wit. Translation: when an average movie makes average money in theaters, maybe there isn't any need for conspiracy theories.

That's not to say Jersey Girl is a bad film. On the contrary, it's sweet and agreeable and, provided you don't gag easily on the saccharine content, pretty hard to dislike, but it's really nothing special. Ben Affleck plays Oliver "Ollie" Trinke, a workaholic publicist who is forced to re-examine his life when he finds himself a single father after his wife (Jennifer Lopez) dies in childbirth. Seven years later, little Gertie (Raquel Castro) is all her daddy lives for. Still mourning his late wife, Oliver has retreated from his job in New York and moved back to Jersey with his father (George Carlin), settling for a job in the public works department and making the occasional half-hearted attempt to rebuild his old life.

The first half of Jersey Girl focuses on Oliver's screen-friendly relationship with his precocious daughter. There are plenty of cute scenes—she pesters him to see Cats on Broadway, but it's closed so they go to Sweeny Todd instead; he picks her up from school in the city's street sweeper; he attempts to rent a porno without her noticing—but none of it, as well acted as it is, and as good as some of the dialogue is, to distinguish it as a Kevin Smith film, or a film from any writer with a distinctive voice. Things pick up once Ollie meets foxy video store clerk Maya (Liv Tyler), a pure cinematic invention (she's a sharp-tongued grad student with a quick wit that's beautiful, available, and willing to give Ollie a "mercy jump" when she hears he hasn't had sex since his wife died). She jumpstarts Ollie's life, and the film, and Liv Tyler gives an adorable performance that, like the rest of the film, is right on the edge of sappiness, but she never falters.

Affleck isn't bad either. Amidst his superhero-planet-saving-oil-driller-WWII pilot blockbuster career, it's easy to forget how funny and likeable he was in Good Will Hunting and Smith's own Chasing Amy. He's both funny and restrained here, despite some overdone patches in Smith's script, including a long, long, long, tearful monologue about his dead wife he has to deliver against reaction shots from the infant Gertie. Ollie is a fairly well rounded, relatable character, and Affleck plays him well. Raquel Castro is a find; she's perfectly natural as his daughter, and their affection seems completely genuine. Lopez and Jason Biggs are fine in small supporting roles, and the presence of the former shouldn't distract those sick of media saturation, since her screen time totals around five minutes.

It's Smith's best-looking film to date (thanks to cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, but, oddly enough, the visual polish makes it feel even more like what it is: a glossy studio picture. There is barely an inkling of Smith's indie spirit anywhere in the final cut (there's no telling what the movie was like before test screenings led to drastic re-cutting), from the stock opening montage (right out of Kindergarten Cop), to the familiar finale (right out of About a Boy and Love Actually). That the film has commercial, mainstream appeal isn't a bad thing, however, and despite it's familiarity, this is a fairly good version of an oft-told tale.

On the commentary, Smith says you've seen this movie before, but you haven't seen his version. While I admit that most versions of this story don't include a reenactment of a violent musical by a little girl at her school talent show, I'd contend that, for the most part, I have seen this version before. And while I can appreciate the fact that Smith wrote it based on his own experiences as a father, and that it's touching watching Ollie realize that his life and his desires no longer come first, that doesn't make Jersey Girl an original or remarkable film. Just a pleasant one.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: For once, Kevin Smith has made a movie with visual appeal, and thankfully, it carries over to the DVD with a pretty good transfer. Overall, the image is very clean looking, if a bit soft, with OK detail and deep blacks. I didn't see any specific edge enhancement, but there is occasional mosquito noise (or at least, a slightly grainy look), particularly in the panning shots of the cityscape. Still, those are pretty minor issues. The packaging incorrectly indicates the film is presented in a ratio of 1.85:1, but the theatrical 2.35:1 is preserved.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Like most comedies, Jersey Girl is fairly "center mixed." Most of the audio comes from the center channel, with music and ambient sounds mixed to the front mains and presented with decent directionality and stereo separation. It's generally a given that dialogue will sound good in a recent release, and that's true here. The surrounds are only active occasionally to provide crowd atmosphere, support the score or a song on the soundtrack, or provide a bit of off-screen audio. It's not a flashy mix, but it is perfectly suited to the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Raising Helen, Finding Neverland, Shall We Dance?, Dear Frankie, The Alamo.
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
2 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by writer/director Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck; Smith, producer Scott Mosier, and guest Jason "Jay" Mewes
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Text interviews with cast and crew
  2. The Tonight Show's Roadside Attractions featuring Kevin Smith
Extras Review: A word of warning to all completists: Kevin Smith basically confirms in the commentary tracks that this is a "rushed" edition of the film that will be replaced later with a more well-rounded piece that will include, at the very least, a director's cut of the film with as much as 20 minutes of extra footage. That being said, this is a very nice DVD on its own, and there is no guarantee that any of the bonus material (including a pair of excellent commentaries) will be ported over when (and if) a special edition is released.

And it would be a shame to lose these commentaries. It's well known among DVD fans that Kevin Smith's films regularly feature some of the most entertaining and informative commentary tracks around. It's also well known that Ben Affleck is a very funny guy, not afraid to make fun of himself and his movies, and that he and Smith have a great rapport. So it's pretty much a guarantee that a track featuring the two of them will be a treat, and it is. True, it's not the most film-centric discussion, but it's also about all those things you really want to know about a film that don't usually come up in most sunny, we-sure-had-fun tracks. The two discuss in detail the negative way that the "Bennifer" press and the failure of Gigli tainted Jersey Girl, and how scenes with Lopez that Smith enjoyed were deleted as a result. They also discuss the script development, and there is a bit of chatter about Affleck's performance, which both are fond of (though he admits he's a ham in most of his films), without getting too self-congratulatory. At one point, Smith says of people who don't like his films, "f*** them." He's mostly joking, but it's still a refreshing thing to hear. Why should someone just sit back and take it when a critic blasts a movie they spent two years making?

There is more discussion of test screenings, the writing process, and the general work that went into the film in the second track, with Smith, long-time producing partner Scott Mosier, and guest Jason "Jay" Mewes. Mewes was originally slated to play Jason Bigg's character, and the track reveals why he did not. It's not quite as flat-out entertaining as the first track, but there are fewer digressions from the discussion at hand.

If you haven't yet had enough of Smith and Affleck, they rip on each other mercilessly throughout the 26-minute From Mallrats to Jersey Girl: Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck Talk Shop (luckily the dorky name doesn't foretell of a dorky feature). The name says it all, as the two discuss their working relationship across four films (five, if you count Smith producing Good Will Hunting) and make fun of each other as hacks and no-talents and on and on. It's funny, and they both seem like good friends and good guys, which is nice to see in Hollywood.

The fluffy behind-the-scenes featurette runs a little over 18 minutes and includes the typical "what this movie is about" interviews with the cast and crew, but it's still worth watching if you enjoy this filmmaking team.

The last extra related to the film is an extensive collection of text interviews with every major member of the cast and crew taken from on-set interviews conducted in late 2001. Good if you like reading off of your TV screen. I don't.

Finally, perhaps my favorite feature on the disc is only tangentially related to Jersey Girl. For the past few years, Kevin Smith has recorded Roadside Attractions segments for The Tonight Show during which he visits a quirky landmark (say, a place where you can mine fake diamonds, or a Christmas lights display) and poke fun at it. In total, there are four of these segments, totaling about half an hour of material.

There is no preview for the feature, but you'll find a gallery of clips for Raising Helen, Finding Neverland, Shall We Dance?, Dear Frankie, and The Alamo.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Jersey Girl was Kevin Smith's first attempt at mainstream filmmaking, and it succeeds more than the box office returns would have you believe. It's a sweet story about a man falling in love with fatherhood, one that hits all the right emotional beats despite a predictable, somewhat creaky screenplay. Sad to say, the critical drubbing Smith received for his syrupy picture seems to have driven him back to what he knows best—his next announced feature is a sequel to Clerks that I'm sure will be funny, but not much of a stretch for the talented writer.


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