Pour your sugar on me
Oh, I can't get enough
I'm hot, sticky sweet
From my head to my feet yeah -- Def Leppard: Pour Some Sugar On Me.
Diabetics be warned, "Jersey Girl" is out and Kevin Smith's got his buckets of thick gooey syrup ready to make audiences across the country large human pancakes. So saturated in pretentious sap I was at the screening that I wondered if Kevin Smith has ever watched a movie that wasn't his own. Surely this is a talented writer whose films such as "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy" and "Dogma" have become cult classics.
His latest movie stars Ben Affleck as Ollie Trinke, a big-time Manhattan publicist whose wife Gertrude (Jennifer Lopez) dies immediately after giving birth to their daughter Gertie (Raquel Castro) 15 minutes into the film. When Ollie is told by the doctor that his wife has passed, he falls to the floor and begins to cry. Affleck does his best to look convincing, but someone with so much experience ("Armageddon," "Pearl Harbor," "Daredevil") shouldn't struggle as much as he does to look convincing. And this is just the beginning.
Stressed out over the loss of his wife, Ollie finally explodes on the night he's expected to present Will Smith at a Hard Rock Café opening to the behest of mouthwatering reporters. But Smith hasn't showed yet, Gertie needs a diaper changing and no one's willing to help, and the crowd of reporters start chanting, "Fresh Prince, Fresh Prince, Fresh Prince!"; Ollie erupts in a fit of rage while at the microphone and basically labels Will Smith, his client, a no-talent punk whose film career will end with the release of the doomed movie "Independence Day."
Now out of a job, Ollie moves to New Jersey and into the home of his widowed father, Bart (George Carlin). Seven years later, Ollie is still working city maintenance with his dad and Gertie is now the most darling 7-year-old child you'll ever see lecturing her father on the privileges of marriage. (The film actually opens with Gertie at age seven walking up to the front of the class in her cute schoolgirl outfit to read her one-page essay on "My Family" which segues to the "Seven Years Earlier" title card.)
Every so often Ollie takes Gertie to the video store where she picks up the latest monster movie before daddy comes along and says, "not until you're older!" Wait, just kidding. She picks up chick flicks because remember, the screenplay calls for her to be a cute 7-year-old girl who rents cute movies. During their latest trip, Ollie surreptitiously heads for the "adults only" section and quickly grabs a movie from the shelf without looking at the title. Hmm, I wonder what kind of expression the checkout girl will have when it's revealed what he has rented. Could it be something embarrassing like a film in the homosexual genre?
The checkout girl is Maya (Liv Tyler), a graduate student currently (chuckle) writing a thesis on the pornography habits of married men. Maya says Ollie will be her interview subject and arranges a date where she will generously offer to have sex with him as it isn't healthy to remain abstinent for seven years. Maya assures that it's for his heath and her research, and that they'll just be friends.
Affleck is not at all a believable father and the script doesn't help. Much of the film is about Gertie forgetting to flush the toilet after each use, so Ollie forces her to go back every time and Smith forces us to follow her up every time. Hey Ollie, if it's so important that she flushes the toilet every time she uses it, how about asking her to WASH HER HANDS once and awhile!
But don't think for a second Ollie is a good father. Despite his flushing fetish, he has neglected to care for his daughter most of her life. As an infant, he would refuse to take part in the responsibilities required to bring up a child and leave everything up to Bart, that is until he puts his foot down. He's the real guardian in the film, which is sad since his vocabulary is horrid considering the girl's age (thank you PG-13 rating) and he's always boozing.
Ollie and Gertie do have their sappy cute moments which I describe a little in the following paragraph, but they also have their disputes, and it brings out the worst in Affleck and the not-so wonderful parenting methods of Ollie. Imagine if you will, the following scene in which Ben Affleck shrieks, "I hate you too, you little freak! You and your mother ruined my life!" Yep, that's exactly how he says it; like a mediocre actor trying his best to recall the lines he just memorized a couple of minutes ago. Not even for a second do we buy it.
He should have followed that boneheaded statement with, "Oh I'm sorry honey, I didn't mean to say that. When you were just a baby, I told the world that Will Smith was a talent-less nobody!" Yes, that would have been funny. But for some reason Kevin Smith doesn't build on the only funny gag of the movie, which is that Will Smith eventually becomes a megastar.
Things begin to look good when Ollie's former assistant (Jason Biggs) gets him an interview with a new PR firm. But the problem is that the interview is on the same night as Gertie's school play. Oh you read correctly, Ollie will have to choose between going to an interview or his daughter's play where she, along with Maya and Bart, will perform a throat-cutting scene from "Sweeney Todd." Apparently Maya who is "just a friend" has the time to write a thesis, manage a video store, act in a play, and be Ollie's supporting shoulder. Now that's task management.
Will Ollie go on the interview and take the high-paying job in New York or go to his daughter's play and stay in New Jersey where he will forever be a street sweeper? That we find out in the conclusion. If you don't want to know what happens, stop reading now because I'm about to give it away.
The awful conclusion, jam-packed with every major cliché that good writers like Kevin Smith know to avoid, is the most disappointing part of the movie. It begins with Ollie deciding to skip the interview with the PR firm to attend and act out in his daughter's play. Before he makes it to the auditorium, there's the obligatory moment where Gertie looks depressed and from behind the curtains peers out at the empty aisle seat with Ollie's name on it. But he finally shows up just in time (Gertie's scene is the last act of course) to read his lines he couldn't have possibly memorized in the time he had to prepare for the interview. A standing ovation follows and Ollie and Maya look at each other as if they're ready to be more "than just friends."
Affleck's chemistry with both Tyler and Castro is lackluster, and to think I'm the guy who loved "Armageddon"; both the relationship between Affleck and Tyler, and his obligatory crying scene. It's disappointing that Affleck's career is in a rut; his acting hasn't improved nor has Smith's absent brilliance.
Raquel Castro is an adorable little girl alright, but so adorable that we simply can't believe her. Affleck's Ollie tells a bad joke and Castro's Gertie laughs while showing that adorable little smile we get to see over and over again. Sigh. She doesn't belong in this movie, she belongs on Barney…or at least in a film that doesn't use her cuteness to restrict her performance.
I learned that Kevin Smith warned the world that this film isn't for critics, which should be offensive to anyone who doesn't write movie reviews for a living. So this film is too manipulative and formulaic for critics but is above the average moviegoer? Sophisticated reviewers won't buy it but regular attendees are supposed to swallow it?
I have an alternative for those looking for a feel-good movie without the risk of going into diabetic shock. It's called "In America" and was widely overlooked last year thanks to its limited release. It's now out on DVD and is one of my favorite movies of 2003. It's about a struggling Irish family trying to make it in a rundown Manhattan apartment. The two young sisters in the film are just as cute and adorable as Castro, but they are believable, real, and serve a better purpose than that of pulling heartstrings.
I don't think I'm being too hard on Kevin Smith. My abhorrence for "Jersey Girl" is justified. I like his movies (except "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back"). They're vulgar, funny, shrewd, and most importantly…original! Smith writes in the production notes for this movie that it is somehow a tribute to the long relationship he had with his recently deceased father. Had Smith stuck to his brilliant comedic style instead of the most overused concept in Hollywood family-affair films, it could have been something worth celebrating.