Movie survives ‘Bennifer’ curse

Jersey Girl” is an endearing film that is a victim of fate. But more precisely, it is a victim of bad publicity and timing.

After having its release date pushed back three times and some quick editing mere weeks before its release, “Jersey Girl” seemed to be the next sure bet for a casualty resulting from the media storm affectionately known as Bennifer.

“Jersey Girl” is the tale of a powerful New York music publicist named Ollie, played by Ben Affleck, who is forced to move back in with his father, played by George Carlin, in New Jersey to raise his daughter Gertie, played by Raquel Castro. Ollie fights against the change in locale that was forced by the death of his wife Gertrude, played by Jennifer Lopez, and a poorly timed rant at a press conference that costs him his job.

Director Kevin Smith, known for “Clerks” and “Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back,” manages to masterfully steer the film clear of the distraction that Lopez and Affleck’s failed relationship and theatrical flop, “Gigli,” could cause. The film, which was shot only weeks after filming wrapped on “Gigli,” has Lopez in it for only the first 10 minutes, thus minimizing the chance for the audience to relive the last year that revolved around their relationship.

Smith manages to use his fondness for monologues and characters that are rough around the edges to save a film that would be pure gooey, emotional mush in any other director’s hands. Still, “Jersey Girl” is overly simplistic and occasionally cheesy.

The cast, which included Liv Tyler as Ollie’s love interest, had undeniable charm as an ensemble but faltered at times when it came to solo skills. Affleck continues to display his limited range, especially during his tepid, drawn out “heartfelt” monologues. Meanwhile, newcomer Castro who looks like she could have actually been the lovechild of Affleck and Lopez, falls into the general stiffness that most child actors face.

In one of the strangest incidents of shameless plugging and the dilemma that studios face when they continuously push back movie release dates, Ollie asks Will Smith, who makes a cameo appearance, “You were in that robot movie, right?” The “robot movie” that he is referring to is Will Smith’s “I, Robot”, which won’t hit theaters until this summer. It makes one wonder, does a Will Smith summer release really need the extra promotion?

Ultimately, “Jersey Girl” is just a sweet, family film that gives Kevin Smith an opportunity to stretch his directorial muscles and Affleck an opportunity to make up for an entire year of questionable film choices. Crude laughs and genuine emotion help to balance out this late March release. But, in the end, it’s still a gooey, sentimental mess in the best way possible.

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