Jersey Girl

on March 26, 2004 by Michael Tunison
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Writer-director Kevin Smith, who established himself as the king of penis jokes and geeky "Star Wars" references in films like "Clerks" and "Dogma," takes his first real crack at a grown-up movie with the intimate father-and-daughter story "Jersey Girl." While the mixed results aren't enough to clearly indicate whether there's a place in the world for the work of a maturing, more thoughtful Silent Bob, the film does have its strengths--notably as a vehicle for frequent Smith star Ben Affleck to display his most charming side.

Affleck plays a New York City music publicist who achieved a spectacular level of professional success in his 20s, only to lose it all after the death of his wife (Jennifer Lopez) during childbirth sets off a chain of events that effectively ends his career. Jobless, with a newborn to care for, he's forced to move back in with his father (veteran comic George Carlin) in the blue-collar New Jersey neighborhood where he grew up. Years later, his elementary school-age daughter (bigscreen newcomer Raquel Castro) and a brainy video store clerk ("The Lord of the Rings'" Liv Tyler) make demands on his time and emotions that threaten his long-plotted return to the big time.

Resuming a push toward more substantial themes he began with the Affleck-starring 1997 comedy "Chasing Amy," Smith heads into "Jerry Maguire" dramedy territory, where people have recognizable adult problems, nobody reads comic books, and the filmmaker's trademark stoner supporting characters, Jay and Silent Bob, are nowhere to be found. "Jersey Girl's" overall story arc is a bit calculated and predictable and the observations about relationships are sometimes trite, but a heartfelt, personal quality in the writing makes the film difficult to dislike. Smith's irreverent humor once again brings out the charismatic best in Affleck, who has ranged from self-conscious to downright bland in his recent action hero roles but is comfortably in his element here. Starring Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, George Carlin, Raquel Castro, Jason Biggs, Jennifer Lopez, Stephen Root and Mike Starr. Directed and written by Kevin Smith. Produced by Scott Mosier. A Miramax release. Drama/Comedy. Rated PG-13 for language and sexual content including frank dialogue. Running time: 101 min

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