"Jersey Girl” is the sixth film from one of my favorite, if not my favorite filmmaker working today, Kevin Smith
. Its spring 2004 release saw the film receive mixed reactions from both Smith's fan base and critics alike. While it has since made its money back for the studio due to a well-done DVD release (as most View Askew
DVDs are well-done) it didn't meet expectations at the box office. "Jersey Girl" will go down most notably as being Smith's first non-View Askewniverse
and first non-Jay and Silent Bob
movie and his first PG-13. It might be the last of all those things as well as Kevin has already re-opened the Askewniverse with the announcement of a Clerks
While "Jersey Girl" is not part of the View Askewniverse series, they're a good amount of things in this film that don't stray far from the Askewniverse:
*While a good amount of View Askew regular performers don't appear (aka Scott Mosier, Jason Mewes, Brian O'Halloran) they are many other cameos by View Askew regulars. A blink and you miss it cameo by Ernie O'Donnell (best known as Rick Derris in "Clerks" and various other cameos), John Willyung appears as the Townie who yells "Bullshit!" (best known as Cohee Lundin in Chasing Amy and the killer of Dante in the original ending to "Clerks") and Matt Damon and Jason Lee have a cameo together..both of whom need no introduction.
* Various filming locations in in New Jersey (the towns of Berlin, Paulsboro and Cherry Hill and the borough of Highlands).
* References to "Star Wars" (Gertie telling Ollie to "Punch it Chewie") and comic books (a certain vehicle is frequently called The Batmobile and Ben Affleck's character's name comes from the first name of DC Comics hero Green Arrow)
* A New Jersey video store is a key location in the film (a la "Clerks"). A copy of Askew flick Dogma can be seen on display on the top of the rack to Ollie's right in the first scene in that store.
* Liv Tyler walks out of a men's restroom in a bar, a reference to Chasing Amy in which Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams' characters have a discussion while in the background women go in and out of the men's bathroom and men go in and out of the women's bathroom.
As for the film itself…
In his first five films, I truly believe that Smith achieved what he was trying to achieve. And although his movies are very much remembered for the "cult heroes" Jay & Silent Bob, with some plausible alterations, the premises of "Chasing Amy" and "Dogma" could have easily been supported by their fantastic dialogue, fascinating characters and engaging plots without the lovable duo. In other words, there really isn't any reason why Smith shouldn't of had a problem accomplishing what he wanted to with "Jersey Girl," which is a story stemming from something very personal in Kevin's life (fatherhood) that Kevin felt like he had to make. While from a certain standpoint, I'm glad that Kevin made this film. He felt like it was an important thing to do, so he did it. Unfortunately, I saw "Jersey Girl" as the first time that Smith went out to make a movie and fell short of achieving what he was going for.
The film does contain some moments when you know you are watching a gifted filmmaker. "Jersey Girl" features solid performances from Liv Tyler, who plays one of Smith's most tragically underdeveloped characters, Raquel Castro, who's the kid and never delves even close to putrid Jake Lloyd quality acting and a solid dramatic turn for George Carlin, taking the first truly dramatic role that the 67 year old comedy legend has ever played.
The film plays to a good soundtrack featuring the solid use of "Wandering" by Ben Folds, contains some truly solid Smith humor, including a solid running gag involving a certain celebrity and really, the film runs on an interesting premise. The whole "working man or family man?" choice definitely could hold my interest.
Yet Smith throws us some absolutely terrible gags involving changing diapers, kids saying dirty words, the tragic under use of the talents of Stephen Root and Mike Starr (depressingly referred to as "The mid-life Jay and Silent Bob" in the credits) and a truly embarrassing sequence involving the Stephen Sondheim musical "Sweeney Todd." While some dramatic sequences are done well (I liked the triple dissolve used during the event that kicks the plot into action) a lot of them fell flat on their face. I couldn't help but watch one scene involving Liv & Ben Affleck discussing their futures late in the film, in which I began to think that I hardly knew or cared about these characters at all. I also couldn't help but think to myself that this is the same guy who wrote brilliant pieces of dramatic dialogue such as Dante & Catlin's exchange in the video store in Clerks, Alyssa's explanation of why she chose Holden in Chasing Amy and Bethany's tragically cut sequence inside the abortion clinic in Dogma.
By the time the credits roll, I found myself pretty detached from "Jersey Girl" and the once interesting premise no longer held my interest. While it was certainly was a disappointment, I have no reason to lose faith in Kevin Smith and View Askew Productions in general. In our modern filmmaking world going 5 out of 6 is amazing now-a-days. Especially when the one effort that "missed" definitely had its moments. I have little doubts that Kevin Smith will continue to keep making great films.
In the Q&A session on the Mallrats 10th Anniversary Extended Edition DVD Kevin admits that while he feels Mallrats may be his most flawed movie (citing his lack of shooting coverage on the film) he holds Jersey Girl "in the least regard of all the films we've done." Kevin has been known to go back on his statements though. Is this just Kevin trying to make things up his fans and the critics who disliked the film? Or does he have just cause in this statement? Since the film turned a profit in theatres (although barely: $36 million worldwide against a $35 million budget, it made much more on DVD though) and a large amount of his fanbase still enjoyed the movie. Kevin was quick to claim what he thought of the film before its release ("This isn't my funniest or most original film to date. It's not the most controversial or clever either. But it is my most personal.") and still continues to support it, having screened a cut extended by 40 minutes at his Vulgarthon '05 film festival and planning a DVD release of that cut sometime down the line. Either way, bring on Clerks 2.