Smith Won't Attract New Audiences with Jersey Girl
- Thursday, March 25, 2004
Release Date: March 26, 2004
Rating: PG-13, for language and sexual content including frank dialogue
Run Time: 102 minutes
Director: Kevin Smith
Actors: Ben Affleck, Rachel Castro, Liv Tyler, George Carlin, Jennifer Lopez,
Director Kevin Smith is not known for making family films. What he is known for are tough, R-rated films about people who refuse to grow up, one of which almost received an NC-17 rating for its coarse language. He doesn't like Christianity, either. Dogma features an abortion clinic worker who is an actual descendant of Christ, a wisecracking 13th apostle and a stripper who dispenses sage advice as the "prophet" of the film.
Jersey Girl seems to be an effort at attracting a new audience, perhaps because of Smith's young daughter. But if this is the best that this Jersey boy can do, he can fuhgeddaboutit.
Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck) has it all - a powerful job as a music publicist, an expensive car, a great apartment overlooking Central Park and a beautiful, pregnant wife (Jennifer Lopez). But when she dies in childbirth, from a fluke aneurism, Ollie is left holding the baby. After weeks of ignoring her, he is forced to take her to an important press conference for an up-and-coming young star named Will Smith. Unfortunately, Smith is late, the baby poops and Ollie mouths off to the assembled journalists, insulting his client at the same time.
With no hope of ever working in public relations again, he's forced to move back to New Jersey with his dad, where he takes a job as a street sweeper. One evening seven years later, he's waiting on his daughter, Gertie (Rachel Castro) to rent a video while trying to check out a porno video undetected. Instead, he attracts the attention of Maya, the video store clerk (Liv Tyler), who manipulates Ollie into going out to lunch the next day. When she learns that he hasn't had sex since his wife died seven years ago, she offers to give him a "mercy jump." Don't be mislead by his devotion, however, because Ollie has been renting porno videos three to four times a week and pleasuring himself. In other words, he's been sublimating his legitimate desire for love and intimacy while becoming a sex addict. This fits perfectly into Maya's plans, because she's writing a graduate thesis about porn and the family man.
Maya pushes Ollie to take her home for that mercy jump. She succeeds with such logic as, "Casual sex is the same thing as masturbation, only someone else is doing the touching, and you're saving the $2 rental fee." Now isn't this the kind of girl you want to take home to dad, marry and raise your kid?
Actually, Ollie's dad (George Carlin) likes her. Of course, he swears in almost every sentence he utters, using countless profanities (including one f--- word) and obscenities throughout the film. Ollie joins in, too. In fact, "JC!" seems to be their favorite exclamation. Okay, so it's working class Jersey, but it really grated on my ears.
On the one hand, the film preaches a positive message about parenting. Ollie loves his job, his car and New York City. The last thing he wants to do is get stuck in Jersey. But he lives with his dad, providing a semblance of family to the child. And, while it's not exactly clear why living across the river would be so horrible for Gertie, it's clearly an act of devotion.
On the other hand, there's the porno/masturbation stuff, which is never addressed as a problem. On the contrary, Maya tells Ollie that it's normal and healthy. Then there's the well-hyped scene where Gertie catches her dad in the middle of their "mercy jump." Not only does this teach her to blackmail and manipulate, but it immediately reverses the excellent teaching that Ollie had given her only days before when he caught her showing her "privates" to a neighborhood boy. This, too, is portrayed as a perfectly normal childhood act - and not as the sexual acting out that it clearly is.
Having lost all moral authority over his daughter, what can Ollie say when Gertie insists on renting any video she wants, whenever she wants, including "Dirty Dancing?" Is it any wonder that Gertie also begins acting out, defying her father with bursts of anger? She also persuades him to perform a scene from a violent Broadway play, which leaves her elementary school audience stunned and causes the principal to faint. A coincidence? Right. Just like the escalating rate of teen venereal disease and pregnancy.
One of the saddest scenes in the film is not when Gertrude dies, but when Maya, who refuses to admit her feelings for Ollie, hides in the porn video room, where she bursts into tears. Smith seems far too morally out-to-lunch to realize it, but like Ollie, this scene shows how clearly pornography and masturbation, a dysfunctional refuge, detract from true intimacy.
I would venture to guess that Kevin Smith knows all about this. In fact, it would appear that his lifestyle has warped his brain so much that he doesn't even know how to make a decent movie anymore. There is help, Kevin. But until you get it, don't try to pass this kind of perversion off as a good film.
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