I’ve been of fan of all of Kevin Smith’s movies since Cripple Jay introduced me to Clerks roughly 20 yrs ago. What draws any fan to any artist’s work is the ability to connect with it. With Clerks I was able to connect easily with the plight of someone working in the customer service industry. Having spent some of my formative years working at Blockbuster Video I spent many hours wondering what I was even doing there on any particular day. I was able to connect with the roof hockey scene having grown up playing roller hockey as many 90’s kids did. I even remember saying I was too sick one day to ref a youth basketball game so I could go lace up and cover the point. With age I was able to connect with even deeper issues covered by Clerks which I’m sure even Smith would laugh at since most only see the film on the surface as nothing but dick and fart jokes. So when he put out Jersey Girl the audience may have questioned what exactly they were watching.
While researching reviews for this article the common themes I ran across were “romantic comedy with predictable formula” and “warm but doesn’t deliver”. The movie scored a 48% on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.2 rating on IMDB. What I found interesting was that only 138,000 people rated it on Rotten Tomatoes. Perhaps it was a movie most didn’t find worthwhile to write anything about by not liking it nor hating it. Maybe it was the distaste people had over seeing Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck in another movie post-Gigli (although the audience could take relief in the fact that Smith had the good sense to off Lopez early in the movie). So I pose the question, why would anyone write up anything on this movie over 10 years after its release?
Smith had established with Clerks and Mallrats a formula of what to expect from his comedies. The typical review would use catchwords such as “raunchy” or “sophomoric” but like any good artist drawing from life experience he threw us a curve ball with Chasing Amy. The complexity of “loving who you love” with sharp dialogue Smith was able to show the audience a depth not seen before. Tackling religion next in Dogma, I was further able to relate with his work as a lifelong Catholic going through that point in life as you transition from high school to college and mold yourself into the adult you will soon become by questioning everything you’ve ever been taught. When Jersey Girl was released in 2004 I was a year removed from being married and 3 years from becoming a father. Yet I was able to connect with this movie somehow. After re-watching the movie 1 son, 2 daughters, and 10 years later, the tones and themes set in this film took on another meaning altogether. Movies such as this particular one grows with its audience. I had not yet experienced what Affleck’s character had been through to appreciate his story. My wife is still alive and well and I’m not raising just one child with the help of my dad but though our situations may be different, the themes remain the same. As I age and experience the difficulties of parenthood I’m able to connect with the material on a whole different level. One of those moments as reflected in what I consider the most heartbreaking scene in the movie:
What I took away from that scene was a moment of brutal honesty. I suspect most if not all parents have those moments where they escape to a place where they just want to tell their kids what jerks they are and think of the life they once had before them. And in that pause right after that moment where you shake yourself back to reality is what caught me in that scene. The fear of not being a superhero to your kids in a moment of weakness where you’ve just had enough was a raw and real as it gets and portrayed beautifully by all the actors. Then there’s the realization of what’s truly important in life:
The theme of sacrifice and emphasis on putting the love of your child above all else was something I could never even come close to understanding in 2004.
This final scene with Carlin and the dance between Affleck and his daughter is what puts this movie over the top for me. The moment of truth between a father and son, not a matter of living alone rather dying alone. A fear that anyone could relate to summed up so simply. Lastly, the confession of a father: that one truth that not all of us were put on earth for any other purpose other than to love our family, friends and children. Most of the time, that’s enough. Give this movie another watch, maybe you’ll find something you didn’t before. Or after, you may just realize it’s time to get back what you’re best at and go play in the dirt with your kid or have a beer with your pop. It’s funny what you find in a movie when you weren’t expecting it.