Making lemonade out of unwanted lemons
By Rachel Heisler
Directed by Kevin Smith
Cast: Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, George Carlin
Ben Affleck has had an amazing career, nailing roles in hit films such as Good Will Hunting, Armageddon, Dogma and Changing Lanes. He's got the ability to play the jerk as well as the compassionate guy, but when it comes to romantic characters Affleck should leave them to the experts instead of getting in over his head the way he did in Gigli, and now Jersey Girl.
It seems it would be easy to blame his performing weaknesses on forces beyond his control. For instance, let's try to pin both movies' lack of charisma on Jennifer Lopez, since she's in both. Try as we might, it won't work since J. Lo's role in Jersey Girl is minimal. Trying to blame Affleck's lack of brilliance on the writers and directors fails, too, because Jersey Girl was written and directed by indie movie legend Kevin Smith. Sure, it's possible that Smith couldn't or wouldn't take the time to make a great movie this time around, but after winners like Clerks, Chasing Amy and plenty more, it's too much of a stretch to place blame on such a talented and experienced artist. And what's more, the plot of Jersey Girl really isn't that bad.
Affleck plays Ollie Trinke, a man who has it all: a hot wife, Gertrude, (Lopez), a job he loves as a New York City record company publicity agent and a baby on the way. The way Ollie sees it, he's livin' the life of luxury and nothing can come in the way of a fantastic future. That is until complications during childbirth leave Ollie single and terrified of his brand-new baby girl, Gertie. Juggling his fast-paced job and raising an infant turn out to be too much for the usually cool and collected Ollie, and in a really funny scene involving Will Smith, loses the thing in life that gives him a sense of meaning, his job.
Unqualified to raise Gertie and without a steady income, Ollie leaves the hustle and bustle of the city and moves to the New Jersey suburb where he was raised. His father, Bart (played by an amazing George Carlin), takes the reins and tries to teach an unwilling Ollie, who wallows in self-pity and loss, how to take care of his child.
Jump ahead six years. A very mature-for-her-age Gertie (newcomer Raquel Castro) has learned how to deal with her father, now a street sweeper like his pops, and she has the smarts to know how to get her own way. She's got her grandfather and his friends, her "uncles," Greenie (Steven Root) and Block (Mike Starr), wrapped around her sweet little finger. Life is comfortable, but deep down Ollie longs to go back to Manhattan and work his way into his old lifestyle.
It's been six years since Ollie has even looked at a women, so when Maya (Liv Tyler, whom Affleck romanced in Armageddon) comes into his life, he brushes off her advances. He's just being true to his first love. But Maya is persistent in her desire to help Ollie get laid, and a funny shower scene paves the road to friendship.
But of course the story doesn't end there. Ollie eventually lands an interview with a record company through his former assistant (Jason Biggs, American Pie) and has to choose between his old life and the one he's spent six long years cultivating. Which one does he pick? Strangely enough, it's Will Smith who helps him decide what to do.
Jersey Girl is sweet and entertaining, and aside from Affleck, the cast puts on a convincing performance. Smith claims to love this movie, so fans of the indie wonder should take the time to check it out, even though it's nothing like his previous work.
Hermosa Juventud/Beautiful Youth at National Hispanic Cultural Center
Part of the May film “Ciclo Cine Español Contemporáneo” program. Tickets available one hour before screening.
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