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In defense of Jersey Girl

Jersey Girl is in no way a bad film in fact I will go as far as to say it’s a great film. The movie was released in 2004 at the height of “Bennifer” a time when most of us were sick of hearing about the couple. I’m not somebody who reads EW, Perez Hilton or any other publications that concentrate on celebrity gossip and yet even I had become inundated with this couples story. If you’re lucky enough to not know what “Bennifer” means; first of all I’m envious of you, second it was a nickname given to Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez when they were dating. I shouldn't know that Jennifer Lopez didn't approve of Afflecks muscle cars and made him purchased a more refined and status appropriate vehicle. I shouldn't know that. I don’t remember the periodic table and yet I know that. Combine the complete media obsession with anything “Bennifer” and a director who has his fair share of detractors and you end up with a film that was fighting an uphill battle to be judged on its own merits. In this piece I want to go into the merits of Jersey Girl and hopefully convince some of you to re visit this film with a fresh, open minded perspective.

Ollie (Affleck) is a career oriented music manager who loses his wife (Lopez) while she is giving birth to their daughter. After dealing with this unexpected tragedy Ollie loses control during a press conference and is in turn ostracized from the professional world he loves.

Let’s start with the relationship between Ollie and Gertrude. These are two people who are clearly in love both on and off screen. The chemistry between the couple is completely believable and that’s really important because the entire film is predicated on the tragedy of Gertrude’s death. One of the few scenes in film that feature the two shows them getting ready for the MTV video music awards. Gertie is almost ready to give birth and having issues with how she will look in comparison to all the “coked out whores” that will be at the awards show. Ollie reassures her by saying that she too can be a “coked out whore.” The scene is short, charming and funny but more importantly it successfully establishes the relationship in an economic way.  A lesser film wouldn't approach that establishment in such an honest and amusing way. 

At around the ten minute mark Gertrude is taken to the hospital to give birth. Anybody who has read anything about this film or seen a trailer knows that she dies giving birth but that foreknowledge in no way lessens the impact of the scene. While Lopez is great in the scene its Afflecks performance in the hallway after her death that got to me. I couldn't help but thinking of my wife on the day she gave birth to our son, she was fine and everything went smoothly but it was still scary as hell to see her in that much pain. The helplessness of not be able to anything to comfort her during those 18 hours was brutal. Yes, before you say anything I am fully aware that it was much harder on her.

After her death Ollie is left to handle their new born daughter and his rising career. He seems to throw himself into his work and ignores his daughter. He has moved back in with his father (George Carlin) and passes most of the responsibility on to his shoulders. His father is happy to help out but eventually grows tired of being taken advantage of and refuses to help when Ollie has an important event to attend. With no other options he is forced to bring his daughter to the event. The scene takes place when Will Smith was known as the Fresh Prince and Ollie has been hired to handle his PR.  The stress of losing his wife, handling his daughter and managing his career is too much and he snaps.  

Liv Tyler is perfectly cast as Maya. She is both naive and bold with a warmth that fills the frame. Maya is the cashier at the local video store (remember those) who strikes up a rapport with Ollie and  Gertie during their weekly visits to the store. Maya blackmails Ollie to interview him about his sexual habits for a school paper and during the interview its revealed that Ollie hasn't had sex in the seven years since his wife's death.

Smith has a gift for dialogue and his style is minimalist but in now way non-existent. He uses the camera sparingly and allows his words to shine. I've heard lots of complaints about his lack of visual flare but I'm not sure that fancy camera work would really add anything to his films. You always have a good sense of geography when you watch his movies, I'm never left wondering where characters are or where they are headed. Some of the camera work in Jersey Girl is beautiful. The lighting and composition are always on point in this film. If you didn't know this was a Kevin Smith film there is no way that you would be complaining about the way it looked. Vilmos Zsgmond was the camera man on this film for Christs sake. Yes, the man who shot The Deer Hunter shot Jersey Girl. Enough with the complaints about the look of the film it doesn't add up.

Will Smith's cameo as himself is one of the highlights of the film. Not only because it bookends the beginning of the film when Ollie trashed the Fresh Prince but because he reiterates everything our protagonist has learned since moving to New Jersey but was too afraid to voice. Ollie is a man who needed to let go of the life he thought he should have and embrace the life he has been given. A life that he didn't plan for but one that will offer him a great deal of happiness.

While I in no way expect people to go back change their opinions about this film I hope that some of you will give it a second chance. Removed from the complete saturation of "Bennifer" and the wake of Gigli its not that hard to love this little movie. It might come across as too sweet or perhaps run of the mill for some but its not as offensively bad as you might remember or have heard. This is a cute movie. Its feel good and sincere. If you haven't seen it give it a shot, if you have seen it and remember hating it, give it another try you might be pleasantly surprised


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