Sunday, April 11, 2004

Jersey Girl

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 April 2004 at Loews Boston Common #4 (first-run)

Ben Affleck gets a bad rap. Certainly, he has become more known as a "celebrity" than an "actor" for the past six years or so, and a good chunk of the press for this movie has focused on his reputation (and that of a co-star). Combine that with his penchant for appearing in less-than-challenging movies, and a lot of people assume he's talentless and cast just for his looks. That's not the case; he is, in fact, a pretty decent actor when he gets good material. Fortunately, Kevin Smith frequently supplies him with good material.

Jersey Girl isn't Smith's best material, or Affleck's best performance. It's good, if not fantastic enough to justify the year I've been waiting for the end of his Spider-Man & Black Cat mini-series. That it's kept him from doing comics is somewhat fitting, since it's a more grounded, realistic movie than his recent Jay & Silent Bob-centered fare. There's nothing really outrageous in it, although it demonstrates that Smith can be funny without being shocking or bizarre. That's no small thing; that Smith manages to make a fairly entertaining movie out of such small, everyday things demonstrates real skill.

What Jersey Girl lacks is the energy of his earlier films. Where in his prior movies, Smith's characters sounded smart by what they said and how they said it, Ollie Trinke (Affleck) is supposed to be smarter than those around him for mocking "Cats". Other bits don't work as well as they should, either. In an early scene, as Ollie brings his wife into the hospital, it's perfectly clear what Smith is going for, but the scene falls flat. There are some attempts to recreate the witty, real sex talk of Chasing Amy, but it comes off as forced. It also seems more than a little inappropriate in a movie that, with its title and poster, has been sold as being about the relationship between Affleck's single father and his daughter. It's not; it's about Ollie letting go of his life as a single guy in the city and accepting that of a suburban family man. Gertie (Raquel Castro) is a major part of that, but not a dynamic part. Really, none of the characters but Ollie seem to grow or change throughout the movie. The effect is to make it appear that Ollie's a jerk for wanting more than living in his father's house, working on the road crew, and renting movies. I'm not sure that becoming a parent means your life should just stop.

This is coming off as more negative than it should. There's a really great scene toward the end of the movie, for example, but it's impossible to describe without spoiling it. Too bad, because it's got the best dialog in the film, and Smith shows great restraint in not following it up with another scene, which a lesser movie might have, that would make the ending less definitive. The movie really has a strong final act; and a movie that ends well can be forgiven that it has a little trouble getting there.

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