Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Life’s Too Short: Jersey Girl (2004)

Like the new subject heading? I’ll use it anytime I a.) walk out of; b.) fast forward through; or c.) skip to the end of a movie. In this inaugural outing, b.) applies

I had hopes for Kevin Smith once. CLERKS was a cri de coeur from the dead end job set. CHASING AMY represented a genuine attempt to plumb male sexual insecurity. I couldn’t stand DOGMA, but I admired Smith’s willingness to wrestle with his theological beliefs onscreen. You’ve got to give him credit for treating the tenets of Catholicism as if they were the path to Jedi knighthood.

JAY AND SILENT BOB ENGAGE IN LIMP SELF-REFERENTIAL BUFFOONERY seemed like a huge step backward. JERSEY GIRL continues that trend.

It’s Smith’s attempt at a “grown-up” movie. Sadly, Smith’s idea of a grown-up seems to be Nora Ephron. He employs her sledgehammer approach to music and her embrace of clichéd story developments. His innovation is to infuse those clichés with crassness, which makes them even harder to swallow.

This is the second Bennifer movie, but J. Lo bows out early on. Which means we’re saddled with Affleck for the whole picture. Smith has been able to bring out the best in the actor – CHASING AMY remains a high point for both of them – but here he gives him nothing to work with. Affleck is never believable as a once-high powered publicist on the skids, because Smith’s version of the PR world seems utterly false.

A bigger problem is pacing. Half an hour in, I was still waiting for the movie to get started. People have died, jobs have been lost, lives have been irrevocably altered, but it still feels like the film is spinning its wheels. Never a good sign.

Smith has said that his model for this movie was Cameron Crowe’s JERRY MAGUIRE, and it shows. You can feel him straining for the heartfelt quality that Crowe achieved so effortlessly. At least he worked with a good cinematographer this time out in Vilmos Zsigmond. The images looked crisp and supple as I zipped through them.