If you miss the opening credits to 'Jersey Girl', you won't know it's a Kevin Smith movie. Absent is his profanity laced conversations, gone is the use of his trademark slacker wit to justify any improbable situation. Hey, there's no sign of Jay and Silent Bob either. What gives? With 'Jersey Girl' Kevin Smith has officially grown up. The extraordinary New Jersey native who made a name for himself as the director of 90's cult darling 'Clerks', finds with this movie a way to sieve the filth, trash and infantile immaturity that have always been the cornerstone of his frank dialogues with the more mature themes of parenting, human loss and responsibility. Responsibility? In a Kevin Smith movie? Yes and here's how all those ingredients fit to create a pleasurable whole.
Music industry publicist Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck) is successful at work and happily married to Gertrude (Jennifer Lopez) but is soon faced with the unwelcome prospect of being a widowered single parent when Gertrude dies during child birth. Moving back from the city to New Jersey with his newborn baby allows him to live with his father (George Carlin) and come to grips with the grief caused by the unexpected death. In the blink of an eye and faster than anyone can say 'Two men and a baby', seven years have passed by and Ollie is still in Jersey with a grown up Gertie, who has turned out to be a smart and rather precocious first grader. The aimlessness that comes with whiling between his blue collar job and in the company of his fathers friends allows him to bump into Maya (Liv Tyler) at the local video store. Eventually smitten by each other, Ollie runs into a deadlock when he has to make some serious decisions regarding his future which may not be in the best interest of everyone.
Of course there are many other details that have been left out in the description for the sake of preserving viewer experience when actually watching the film, but that really is the crux of the rather conventional story. What makes it so invigorating and heartwarming to watch is the unsullied way that Smith infuses natural charm, charisma and heart into the characters spoken conversation. Dialogue is the very essence of every Smith movie, and here it is no different, except it has a certain dignified quality, an uncharacteristic move for Smith.
The brashness once found in the director and his characters is gone, replaced here by human goodness that comes with living a life in pursuit of personal growth and conscientiousness. Also surprising is the amount of dramatic content thrown in. A confrontation between father and daughter is so well staged it evokes genuine sympathy and concern over the derailing of the situation. Affleck, who alternates between being delightful or deplorable, is in perfect control of his characters sensibilities. Part of it can again be credited to Smith, who has a propensity to bring out the best in his favourite leading man (having worked with him in no less than four movies).
For Smith, this is not just a change in plot schematics but also directorial preferences. His initial movies were about one set situations, and really, it was the situations that Kevin Smith wrote that made them amusing or interesting. It is a little sad to see this swapped by the convention of the father who has to make it on time to his daughters first play. Still, if 'Jersey Girl' is any indication, Smith may yet have time to be the next Mel Brooks, without the emotional drain and all the wit retained. - Faizan Rashid