You know the old joke, from the theatre review: "So-and-so played Hamlet, and lost." In "Jersey Girl" Ben Affleck plays music-business flack Ollie Trinke and hasn't got a clue about how to show us the character. And he's in every scene. It may be heresy to say this, but the best thing about "Jersey Girl" is Jennifer Lopez. And she dies less than fifteen minutes into the film. As Ollie's put-upon wife, she shows believable emotions, good line-reading skills and the ability to make a clichéd script work. But from the moment she dies in childbirth, the film is an unspeakable disaster. It's easy to blame Affleck; he's too busy being Affleck playing a role to ever convince us he's Ollie. We can even blame little 7-year-old Raquel Castro as Gertie, the daughter Lopez leaves him, for being terminally cute in that teeth-clenching, blackboard-scraping kind of mannered acting that only the very worst child actors use; she plays everything to the camera and not to the people in the shot with her.
But the person truly at fault here is writer-director Kevin Smith, who once had the wit and talent to make fun of life and his characters, in films like "Clerks" and "Dogma." "Jersey Girl" gives us an Ollie so stereotyped (he can't change a diaper, expects his father (George Carlin) to bring up his little girl, lives only to make it big in public relations) that we cringe whenever he opens his mouth to make another asinine statement. Smith calls the film an homage to his own father, who died last year; had his father lived I believe he would have disowned his son for perpetrating this mess.
The film does have a few moments that I responded to: One is Ollie's obligatory epiphany, which comes here in a nice scene with Will Smith, as they talk about being fathers. Another is the understated, lovely performance of Liv Tyler as the video-store clerk who opens Ollie up to real life. And the third and best is Smith's brilliant choice of material for little Gertie to perform at her school's family-talent night: it's the throat-cutting scene from Sondheim's bloody opera "Sweeney Todd." So maybe there's still hope for him; we'll see.