Jersey Girl (2004)

(In theaters, April 2004) Ouch. While it’s not fair to begrudge writer/director Kevin Smith’s desire to grow up after five raucous comedies, it’s not poor efforts like Jersey Girl that will demonstrate anything. What’s nearly unbearable, though, is the dawning realization that the film’s problems stem from one source: The writing. The direction is surprisingly unremarkable for a Smith film (it looks like just about any cookie-cutter romance, which is a step up for Smith’s notoriously static style) and all of the actors do really good work, from Ben Affleck’s uneasy blue-collar worker to Elizabeth Castro’s adorable kid character. (Heck, even Liv Tyler has never looked hotter; it’s the glasses, I swear!) But the stuff that comes out of their mouth… eeew. Smith’s writing has always been the chief attraction of his films, but he completely (and repeatedly) misses the mark here: He brings to romantic drama the same sledge-hammer quality so obvious in his comedy and the result is a disaster. Characters spout off “on-the-nose” monologues to sleeping infants, react in broad and obvious ways that have no equivalent in the real world and engage in conversations that feel more like dramatic check-lists. Yikes. To add insult to injury, whatever comedy writing is in the film falls flat and feels forced. All in all, it’s not Smith’s new intentions that are at fault (despite everything, you can still sense the heart-felt bond between father and daughter) but his inept execution. Too bad.

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