Jersey Girl (2004)

Rated PG-13 Our content rating V-0; L-4; S-6/N-1.

For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
Luke 9:25

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never fail you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

Jersey Girl

Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck) is a rising Manhattan publicist deeply in love with his pregnant wife (Jennifer Lopez). He loves living in the city with all its cultural activities and glitzy excitement. However, his wife dies in childbirth, leaving him with a daughter to raise. He names her Gertrude, after her mother and moves in with his widower father Bart Trinke (George Carlin) in Jersey. This means a hectic commute into Manhattan, and always a frantic juggling of his schedule to accommodate the needs of his daughter, especially when Gertie grows old enough to enter school. Usually it is Bart who does the accommodating because of the demands of Ollie’s job. The latter is not going so well, and indeed, drops into the toilet when, at a press conference, Ollie goes ballistic and disses a TV actor and singer about whom he knows little—Will Smith. Almost before he can say again “the Fresh Prince of Bel Air” he is ushered out the door with his personal things. He finds work with his father in the maintenance department of the city. Gertie loves it when her father picks her up after school in his “chariot,” a street sweeping machine.

Ollie, of course, longs for the more exciting days of city living. He tries many times to secure another publicist position, but to no avail. In the meantime, he takes Gertie to the local video store where, as Gertie is looking through the family section, he sticks his hand through the curtain that closes off the “adult” section and grabs whatever is available. He has remained true, in his eyes, to the memory of his wife—and Jennifer Lopez is so radiant in her brief role that we can believe Ollie’s devotion to her memory—but he is a young male who needs to let out those sexual urges. One day the clerk Maya (Liv Tyler) draws him up short by commenting on his taste for porno films, telling him that she would like to question him about it as part of a research paper she is writing. He is shy about discussing this, but she boldly tells him that he needs the real thing, and not only that, she will give it to him.

Now, this offer hardly sounds like an act of grace in the writing about it. However, while watching the film, Liv Tyler is skillful enough to make us believe that she is offering herself out of genuine concern for Ollie, so that her unorthodox offer is not just the seduction technique of a modern woman. Her Maya is actually naïve in some ways, but also bold, sensitive and caring. When Ollie agrees to her plan and brings Maya to his home, the two are interrupted by the earlier than usual return from school of Gertie. How matters develop between them, and of course, Ollie’s being confronted with a choice, when he at last is successful in landing another job that will require his and Gertie’s moving back to Manhattan—is a delight to watch.

This Kevin Smith film will be a little gentler on the ears of those bothered by the usual scatological language of this gifted filmmaker’s work. Maybe it is because one of the main characters is a 7 or 8 year-old girl— Raquel Castro is marvelously convincing as Gertie Trinke—as well as the theme of character transformation. The frank sexual talk will be offsetting to some, but all in all, this romantic comedy offers plenty of material for a group of young adults to explore. There are many clichés associated with character transformation films—such as the parent frantically trying to fight his way through traffic so that he will arrive at the school auditorium in time to catch his daughter’s act—but Kevin Smith and his fine cast make us care so much that most viewers will readily overlook them.