Drowning in every workaholic- single- father- gets- his- priorities- straight cliché you could possibly imagine (and then some), "Jersey Girl" is so insultingly trite and treacly it actually features self-centered, single-dad widower Ben Affleck not only realizing (at the last moment) that his daughter's school talent show is more important than a job interview, but actually dashing back to the 'burbs from Manhattan to join her on stage for a song.
Granted, the duet -- which manages to be insipidly saccharine and hokey despite being a murderous number from "Sweeney Todd" -- is the performance that father and daughter had planned all along before his ego got in the way. But the very fact that it never even crosses Affleck's mind to ask about rescheduling his interview lays bare how blindly enamored writer-director Kevin Smith was with the hackneyed notion of this false dilemma.
For all the post-"Gigli" murmur about this being the another possible bomb co-starring former fiancés Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, "Jersey Girl" is actually quite romantic, amusing and well-acted up to the point when Lopez, as Affleck's beloved wife, dies in childbirth, providing the timber-souled actor a brief moment in which to show unexpected depth as he collapses in a weeping heap in the hospital hallway.
But from that point on, the picture is nothing but one stale contrivance after another. A rising star at a New York public relations firm in the mid-1990s, Affleck is fired after taking his baby to a press conference for the launch of an early Will Smith album, cracking under the stress and declaring to impatient reporters, "Like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air is ever going to ever have a movie career!" (These reporters, by the way, are absurdly depicted as chanting for the rapper like fans at a concert.)
Blacklisted in the industry, he's forced to move back into the New Jersey home of his "amusingly" grumpy, proudly blue-collar father (George Carlin, dramatically in over his head as a hard-drinking sage), where Affleck is supposed to learn some life lessons.
But cut to seven years later, when Gertie (Raquel Castro) is old enough to be a button-cute wisecracker, and Affleck is still shallow and selfish, despite being depicted as more grounded and content. Although humbled by driving a street sweeper just like dad, he's also happy to have struck up an obligatory tentative romance with a cutesy-sexual video store clerk (Liv Tyler) who bluntly asks him about his porn and masturbation habits. ("Relax," she twinkles preposterously. "I'm a grad student. I'm writing a thesis.")
But as soon as Affleck gets wind of a possible job opening at a PR firm where he has a connection, he starts talking about moving back to the city and getting a nanny, proving that he's learned nothing and cares little about his daughter's happiness -- until, of course, his last-reel epiphany, educed by a chance meeting with Will Smith himself. "It takes everything I got to walk out of the house each day," says the now mega-star and model father, bringing a cheap tear to Affleck's eye.
I admire Kevin Smith for being inspired by the birth of his own daughter and trying to stretch beyond his trademarked hilariously biting potty-humor comedies and braving a little sentimentality. But "Jersey Girl" is myopic (where are Affleck's in-laws through all this?) and weakly directed (Smith opts for a montage sequence in the one scene where Affleck is supposed to shine as a PR man), and above all, mechanical. So if this is the best he can do, please, oh please, bring back those trash-mouthed stoners Jay and Silent Bob.
Run time: 102 mins
In Theaters: Friday 26th March 2004
Box Office USA: $25.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $36.1M
Distributed by: Mirimax Films
Production compaines: Close Call Films, Miramax Films, View Askew Productions, Beverly Detroit
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 41%
Fresh: 70 Rotten: 101
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Kevin Smith
Starring: Ben Affleck as Ollie Trinke, Raquel Castro as Gertie Trinke, Liv Tyler as Maya, Jennifer Lopez as Gertrude Steiney, George Carlin as Bart Trinke, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith as Susan, Will Smith as Himself, Stephen Root as Greenie, Mike Starr as Block, Jason Biggs as Arthur Brickman