By Nick Maylor
2003 was a pretty abysmal year for Ben Affleck’s career. He appeared in three films that year, Daredevil, Paycheck, and Gigli (now considered one of the worst movies ever made). The bad press from Gigli was compounded by the overexposure of Ben Affleck’s relationship and subsequent breakup with his co-star, Jennifer Lopez.
None of this was good news for Affleck’s spring 2004 film Jersey Girl; written and directed by Kevin Smith. The movie was a venture into new territory for the indie filmmaker as it was his first attempt at a PG-13 rating. It would also be the first film not set in Smith’s shared fictional “View Askewniverse” and first not to feature Jay and Silent Bob (Smith’s signature characters).
Jersey Girl faced troubles with marketing because Jennifer Lopez also appears in Smith’s film as Affleck’s character’s wife. The bad press from Gigli forced Smith to make numerous appearances in various media trying to downplay Lopez’s involvement in the picture.
Lopez only appears in the prologue before her character is killed off. One of the great shame’s of this movie’s bad reputation is that Lopez is actually brilliant in her brief number of scenes with Affleck. Whatever sucked the life out of Gigli was clearly not present on the set of Jersey Girl.
Oliver Trinke (Ben Affleck) is a wealthy New Jersey native living in Manhattan, working as a publicist. He falls in love with Gertie (Jennifer Lopez) and everything seems great as they wed and prepare for the birth of their first child. When Gertie goes into labour, they arrive at the hospital. Ollie is present during the birth but after the baby is delivered, Gertie falls unconscious and Ollie is dragged out of the room by hospital officials. After pacing the halls nervously, Ollie is informed that Gertie has suffered an aneurysm and died. He walked into the hospital with a wife.
He walked out with a baby. His world has been turned upside down. Plunging himself into his work, he prepares for an event at the Hard Rock Cafe in honour of Dj Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince where he becomes distracted and frustrated, blasting Will Smith in front of the packed house at the restaurant. Effectively committing career suicide, Ollie is fired and moves in with his father (George Carlin) back in New Jersey.
While the prologue appears in flashbacks narrated by Gertie Jr. (Raquel Castro), the events of the movie take place seven years later. Ollie is working as a street sweeper operator, still living with Bart. Just like his father, Ollie has a blue-collar job and Gertie has a happy life with her father and her “Pop”. Renting movies is a big deal for Ollie and Gertie. Maya (Liv Tyler) works at the video store where they rent films. Maya gets involved with Ollie after a misunderstanding motivates her to go to Ollie’s house to apologize. Liv Tyler is adorable as Maya and breathes energy into every scene she appears in.
As documented in the film This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006), Smith ran into trouble obtaining a PG-13 rating after showing the MPAA a cut of Jersey Girl. The board objected to a scene where Maya refers to masturbation. Smith has run into trouble with the MPAA several times but this is certainly the silliest example of it.
Jersey Girl gets a ton of flack and negative attention for reasons that I have mentioned already. Many people made up their minds about it long before it was released and Smith himself often makes jokes about it being a bad film. This is unfortunate. Smith should be proud of Jersey Girl. It’s far more interesting, humorous and well acted than many romantic comedies and other comparable films. Smith has always been a gifted and insightful writer. This movie is no exception.
The supporting cast includes Stephen Root, Mike Starr, Jason Biggs and there are cameo appearances from Matt Damon, Jason Lee and Will Smith (playing himself). All of their small roles are perfectly executed. George Carlin (a personal hero of mine) delivers the finest acting performance of his career as Ollie’s dad Bart. Bart urges his son to forget about his losses and focus on his daughter after Ollie neglects his duties as a father during the first months of Gertie Jr.’s life. Raquel Castro plays Gertie at age seven and is phenomenal in the film. Her chemistry with Affleck and Liv Tyler is palpable and the two romantic leads deliver solid performances too. I believe this film to be one of Ben Affleck’s better dramatic roles and his kinship with director Kevin Smith is obvious in the work they have done together.
This movie also predicted that Ben Affleck would play Bruce Wayne/Batman over 10 years in advance. See here:
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor