In his five previous films director Kevin Smith has built his own cinematic universe, where characters could reference events or even cross over from one film to another. His latest film, Jersey Girl, finds Smith leaving the comfort of familiarity behind and striking out into new territory- a lighthearted comedy about fatherhood devoid of the raunchier elements of his early films. While the move may alienate some fans of his older material, it may earn him a new cadre of admirers.
Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck) has it all- a fabulous midtown Manhattan apartment, a well paying job and a smart and attractive new wife (Jennifer Lopez). However, after his wife dies in childbirth, he finds that he can’t juggle fatherhood and his high-pressure career. Moving back into his father’s (George Carlin) home in suburban Jersey, Ollie realizes that he has to set aside his own dreams in order to be a good father for baby Gertie. Seven years later, Ollie has a chance to get back into his old career, but has to decide if he can now manage raising his daughter (Raquel Castro) and find happiness in his own life.
Jersey Girl is perhaps director Kevin Smith’s most personal work since his debut film Clerks. Both films draw on his own experiences, whether as a struggling as a register jockey in a New Jersey suburb or struggling to find the balance between career and fatherhood. While some moments in the film have been seen before, Smith and his cast manage to imbue these scenes with a warmth and honesty that keeps them fresh.
Smith has often described himself as a writer first and a director second. But Smith undersells his ability to get his actors to deliver great performances. Affleck is never better than when he is in a Kevin Smith and his performance here is no exception. After slumming through a string of humdrum action films, Affleck finally gets a chance to exercise the range he showed in films like Good Will Hunting (1997) and Smith’s Chasing Amy (1997). Newcomer Raquel Castro is a find, playing the young Gertie with an honesty that never veers off into a case of the cutes. Even George Carlin gets what could very well be his first great acting moment towards the end of the film.