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Jersey Girl (2004)

Forget about who you thought you were, and just accept who you are.

Directed by:

Kevin Smith

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 102 minutes

UK Certificate: 12A

Country: United States

Try reuniting Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez on the screen as though the whole Gigli debacle never happened, and you are tempting fate. Put them in that most sickly sweet of genres, the romantic comedy, and you are headed for trouble on a Maid in Manhattan scale. Add a precocious little girl, and you are one step away from an Uptown Girls disaster. Then throw in a cameo from Affleck’s old buddy Matt Damon, just to remind everyone of the early promise on which both have failed to deliver since their collaboration on ‘Good Will Hunting’, and your film ought to be beyond all redemption. Yet in ‘Jersey Girl’, writer/director Kevin Smith does all these things, and still manages to turn out a film that is as smart and funny as his debut ‘Clerks’.

When his wife Gertrude (Jennifer Lopez) dies during childbirth, foul-mouthed, work-obsessed music publicist Ollie (Ben Affleck) flees with his newborn daughter to his father’s house in New Jersey, and, in a stress-fuelled moment of extreme ill judgement, demolishes his beloved New York City career. Seven years later, and Ollie is still in Jersey with his father and his daughter Gertie (Raquel Castro), but he has not given up the dream of getting his old life back in New York – until he meets Maya (Liv Tyler), a graduate working at the local video store, and is forced to make some hard decisions as to where his priorities lie.

There are several keys to this film’s success. The first is the way in which it interweaves the theme of death into a genre where it is usually a strict taboo, so that right from the beginning the film seems more substantial than your average romcom. The second is Smith’s refusal to abandon the trademark coarseness of his dialogue, providing a deliciously filthy counterbalance to some of the story’s more cloying aspects, and offering some simply priceless moments – like Affleck telling Lopez that the girls who attend music video awards are “coked-out whores”.

Lastly, the film features some remarkable performances. After serving her time as an elf of Middle Earth, Liv Tyler gets to play an ordinary human being again (albeit one writing a thesis on porn and the family man), Smith-regular George Carlin hardly seems to be acting as Ollie’s gruff father, Raquel Castro pulls off the miracle of playing the sweet kid without being annoying (and really does look like she could be Jennifer Lopez’s daughter), Will Smith shows a real talent for playing himself, Jason Lee has a welcome cameo as a sniggering PR man, and, most surprisingly of all, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, in their best rôles in years, seem like real people rather than semi-skilled icons. And for those of you out there who will never be able to forgive JLo her past cinematic transgressions, at least there is the consolation that her character dies within the first ten minutes of the film.

It's Got: A girl obsessed with Sweeney Todd, a PR man who cannot accept that George Michael is gay or the Fresh Prinz of Bel Air has a future in the movies, and arguably the most graphic nappy-changing scene ever committed to cinema.

It Needs: A less conventional finish (although the personal dedication at the end is quite moving).

Alternatives:

My Girl, Regarding Henry, The Family Man, Uptown Girls

Summary

Surprisingly unannoying romantic (tragi)comedy about not having to be in a state just because you are in New Jersey.

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