Let’s get one thing straight. Everyone should stop hating Ben Affleck for no reason. He wrote one of the greatest screenplays of the ’90s – yes, I’m referring to “Good Will Hunting.” And we all saw “Armageddon” and thought to ourselves at least once, “Hey, that’s pretty bad ass.” His latest flick, “Jersey Girl,” highlights exactly why he should be a movie star and why he deserved to … well, you know.
Based on writer/director Kevin Smith’s (“Clerks,” “Chasing Amy”) own experiences as a father, “Jersey Girl” (Miramax) tells the story of one of New York City’s most powerful publicists, Ollie Trinke (Affleck). After the tragic loss of his wife (Jennifer Lopez, in an extended cameo), Ollie learns that he isn’t particularly adept at being a widower or a parent. He’s forced to leave his glamorous life behind and move back in with his own father (George Carlin) in suburban New Jersey. As his daughter, Gertie (Racquel Castro), grows into a spirited, curious little seven-year-old, Ollie becomes used to life as a suburban father and even starts a small romance with a rather bold video store clerk, played by Liv Tyler. It isn’t long, however, before he’s offered a chance to return to his old life in the big city. Ollie must make a decision between the life he used to love and the one he loves now.
“Jersey Girl” is hands down Affleck’s best performance to date. He plays Ollie with a sense of love and adoration for his daughter while at the same time conveying the unbearable loneliness of being a widower. The supporting cast is stellar, including the authentic, never-too-cute newcomer Castro as Gertie. Tyler is incredibly charming as the sensitive, outspoken love interest, but perhaps the most surprising performance is Carlin. Coming from “seven dirty words” to raising seven-year-old girls, he’s surprisingly genuine.
This picture is heartbreaking, heartwarming and perfectly funny. Smith has matured infinitely as a writer and a director, making this his most personal picture to date. His hardcore fans will be pleased – there are “Askewniverse” cameos and the requisite Burt Reynolds and Star Wars references – but more so because this project is a step in the right direction for Smith. As for everyone else, drop the Bennifer baggage and go in with an open mind. “Jersey Girl” will move anyone with even half a heart.