Making the Grades
The best way to describe writer/director Kevin Smith's Jersey Girl may be to explain what it isn't. It isn't Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back or as crass as his other cult-status films--Chasing Amy and Clerks (the movie where we met Jay and Bob). It also isn't rated R (a first for Smith). And it's not all about his stars, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez (Smith even admits to chopping out their scripted wedding scene).
In fact, this screenwriter deals Lopez right out of the picture after the first ten-minutes, when the actress, playing the wife of Affleck's character (named Ollie Trinkle), dies in childbirth. That leaves the New York City music publicist with a solo career, juggling the demands of his job with raising his baby girl. Unable to cope, he moves in with Dad (George Carlin) back in Jersey.
At first their shared grief provides excellent glue for father and son bonding, but cracks start to form when Ollie assumes Dad will handle the child-care duties. Forced to take his daughter to work, he arrives late at a press conference where he faces a gaggle of reporters impatiently waiting for the arrival of Will Smith--who is also tardy.
The pressure of having a celebrity no-show, while at the same time trying to master the finer points of baby powdering and diapering, causes the desperate dad to explode into a tirade in front of the press. Thanks to his insulting speech, Ollie instantly has extra time on his hands.
A few years later, the former "big wheel" is spending his days driving a street sweeper for the Highlands municipality. Still hurting from the loss of his wife, he claims no desire for a new relationship. Instead he focuses on his daughter Gertie (Raquel Castro), whose frequent requests to rent videos leads him to become acquainted with the store's gregarious clerk Maya (Liv Tyler), and the pornographic video section.
Gertie loves life in Jersey, and Maya loves Ollie. Still the publicist yearns for the excitement of life in Manhattan. When another job opportunity arises, the man is forced to choose between what he wants and what his friends and family think he should do.
Smith may have put his infamous explicit sexual dialogue on hold (he reasons in the San Francisco Chronicle that after having his own first child " the edges got a little, I hate to say, duller "), but this film still rides like a teeter-totter. One moment it's a warm-hearted drama, the next it's delving into the joys of porn and masturbation, thanks to an extensive conversation between Maya and Ollie. Multiple scatological and religious profanities, along with a single use of the sexual expletive round out the language concerns. Other content issues include sexual banter, a penchant for cigarette smoking by both main characters and a simulated throat slitting in a reenacted scene from Sweeney Todd.
Jersey Girl does have some funny and thoughtful moments, good timing, and decent performances. But while this may be Smith's vision of a less edgy movie, it's unfortunate most parents will agree on the last thing Jersey Girl isn't: A family movie.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Jersey Girl.
Characters in movies are often faced with deciding between big career promotions or being a good parent. Can you think of instances when a career is given priority for the wrong reasons? Is it ever possible to accomplish both goals?