Sunday, April 27, 2014

Jersey Girl


Hello all my fans out there in the dark. I'm sure you've been anxiously awaiting my comeback from several months of silence. It's not that I don't love you all, it's just been a busy time with me and some of it spent without internet access. I'm just back from a rather trying time; my dear friend, Miss Vera Charles, convinced me to take a little religious retreat by spending some time in a Trappist monastery. She was sure that a few weeks of prayer and contemplation would restore my spirit, somewhat run down from my endless work in the Hollywood free for all. I agreed and soon was heading for St. Vitus's, a little monastery tucked away in the redwoods outside of Santa Rosa. The chauffeured limousine ride up the coast was a restful prelude and soon I was ensconced in a lovely little cabin with a few of a duck pond and some thousand year old trees.

I've always been a huge fan of the Trappists, ever since seeing that lovely little film with Julie Andrews and I thought it would be just divine if I could organize a little monastery production of The Sound of Music as a celebration of their heritage. The monks were very prompt about arriving at rehearsal on time but I had grave difficulty hearing their singing voices. I even snuck out to the local Radio Shack for a discreet little amplifier, just in case my hearing was at fault, but even with it turned up to eleven, I simply couldn't hear whether the harmonies were on key or not. I ended up solving the problem by turning the show into a tap revue; when forty monks began to shuffle off to Buffalo during Edelweiss, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

I did grow a bit tired of the somewhat monotonous food there and snuck out to the Motel 6 one weekend for some rest and relaxation.  While there, I caught Kevin Smith's film Jersey Girl on the movie channel. I had not seen this in the theaters, although I was aware that it starred Ben Affleck with a cameo appearance by Jennifer Lopez and was made during their infamous Bennifer period of some years ago. Smith, as a director, is known for edgy independent comedies such as ClerksChasing Amy and Dogma which often star his repertory company of friends, including Affleck, Matt Damon, Jason Lee and Joey Lauren Adams. As Smith has grown older and settled down as a father, he seems determined to explore the more mundane, such as childhood toilet habits and thus, Jersey Girl.

As the film opens, we meet the improbably named Ollie Trinke (rhymes with Pinky), a fast rising music business PR hack (Ben Affleck). Ollie is a young Manhattan mover and shaker in 1996. During the opening credits, he meets yuppie book editor Gertie (Jennifer Lopez) and wins and woos her by the time 'Directed by' crawls by. Ollie and Gertie are all set to become a high powered Manhattan couple and, when they find they're pregnant they're thrilled. Ten minutes later, Gertie is dead from an aneurysm delivering little Gertie junior (Raquel Castro), and Ollie finds himself unprepared for single parenthood. Rather than hire a babysitter like every other Manhattan yuppie who suddenly finds himself widowed, Ollie leaves his daughter with his father (George Carlin being a lovable curmudgeon) in Highlands, Jersey. When he rebels against this arrangement, Ollie takes little Gertie to work with disastrous results on his career.

Ollie finds himself without spouse and without career and retreats to Highlands where he joins his dad on the municipal work crew and seven years pass. Ollie, Gertie, Pop, and pop's two barfly buddies (Stephen Root, Mike Starr) make up a happily dysfunctional family unit. Into this comes Maya (Liv Tyler), a free spirit video store clerk who goes from acidly commenting on Ollie's taste in adult rental titles, to quizzing him about his sexuality for a school project, to recognizing a sensitive wounded soul. The two of them develop an awkward romance, chaperoned by a precocious seven year old, that culminates in them all performing Sweeney Todd for little Gertie's first grade assembly, much to the consternation of her teacher (Betty Aberlin of a thousand and one Mr. Roger's Neighborhood episodes). Needless to say, all ends well.

Jersey Girl isn't bad. It has Smith's usual wicked ear for smart and profane dialogue. It has cameos by Jason Lee, Matt Damon, Jason Biggs, and other Generation X talent. It's smart enough to kill off Jennifer Lopez as soon as possible before her irritating persona can unbalance the film. Affleck and Tyler are both likeable. Racquel Castro makes a hell of a three foot tall Mrs. Lovett. Unfortunately, the various inspired pieces just don't gel together into a coherent whole. The underlying romance is so paint by numbers and the whole 'There's no place like home and family' themes so old when Capra did them that you can predict exactly where things are going to go twenty minutes before the film gets around to going there. I'm not sure if Smith was slumming when he made this one, or if he earnestly was trying to explore his rediscovery of 'family values' in his own life. If the latter, he should stick to the snarky outsider point of view. He's way too maudlin when dealing with real emotion.

I think the film is best enjoyed for its little moments. Smith remains a master of non-sequitur and not flinching away from the absurdities of living. As long as one revels in a clever piece of dialogue or a dead on supporting performance, one feels one is watching a good movie. When one tries to view it as a romantic comedy, it fails as it's difficult to really care about these people or their rather mundane problems. One thing to be thankful for, it's not another Gigli where Bennifer proved the old adage about there is no screen chemistry in real life couples. If you run across this one in the sale bin at Wal-Mart, you might give it a look.

Music release party. Video music awards maternity gown. Gratuitous S. Epatha Merkerson. Street sweepers. Bisexual porn. Hiding in the shower. Toilet flushing battles. Easy Bake Mrs. Lovett oven. Dirty Dancing denigration. Continuous Cats references. 

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