Jersey Girl written and directed by Kevin Smith, produced by Scott Mosier, with Ben Affleck, George Carlin, Liv Tyler and Raquel Castro. 103 minutes. A Miramax production. An Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Friday (March 26). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 80. Rating: NNN
Kevin Smith is parked on the floor of his suite at Toronto's Intercontinental, packs of Marlboro Lights on the coffee table. He's wedging a few interviews in between doing his hilarious stand-up routine and a big round-table talk with college newspapers pondering the vicissitudes of tabloid journalism as they pertain to his latest film, Jersey Girl. Or, in the post-Gigli, post-Ben Affleck/J.Lo breakup world, how does a director deal with making what was going to be the other Ben and J.Lo movie?
"I thought we were golden - I thought I might have a picture that could open at number one, only it turns out we're going to have to work for it.
"I saw Gigli early. They sent Ben a cut of the film while we were shooting Jersey Girl, and he showed it to me. What I couldn't figure out was how it cost $70 million, until Ben told me how Martin Brest directs. Forty and 50 takes of everything, until the actors are exhausted, and then he uses that take. And all the while, film is running through the camera. That's expensive. I also thought, 'Hasn't Ben already made this movie?'"
Miramax is studiously ignoring the fact that Jennifer Lopez is in Jersey Girl. Of course, she's out of the movie in about 12 minutes - her appearance is really an extended cameo. They can't pretend that Affleck isn't in it. This is the fifth of Smith's six films to feature Affleck, and the third in which he has a starring role, after Chasing Amy and Dogma, where he plays the principal villain.
Jersey Girl is also Smith's first grown-up movie for a mainstream audience, with Affleck as a single dad who loses his high-powered job as a music publicist and finds himself living in New Jersey with his dad, working for the city.
It must have been hard for Smith, who's known for the baroque obscenity of his comic dialogue, to write a movie that's basically PG-13.
"Actually, it was incredibly easy. When you leave Jay and Silent Bob out of the equation, it cleans up immediately. Plus, there's a seven-year-old kid in the movie. You can't run around making dick jokes when there's a seven-year-old in the picture."
This may or may not reflect a new, "mature" Kevin Smith, the married guy with a kid. Who can forget him standing in his comic-book store holding daughter Harley in the extras section of the Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back DVD, encouraging his offspring to "Help Daddy pimp his shit"?
Smith stacks the deck a little. Affleck has to choose between living with his adorable daughter and a potential new girlfriend played by Liv Tyler or returning to Manhattan to be a soulless hustler in the steel canyons.
"It just needed it to be a money-versus-emotion decision. And when I have to give characters a job, I try to make it a job we haven't seen a lot of in the movies. I couldn't make him an agent, because then it turns into Jerry Maguire. I could have made him a doctor or lawyer, but everyone's seen that. I couldn't make him a filmmaker, because making films about filmmakers is just the worst thing.
"I hadn't seen anyone do a publicist, and most people don't know what publicists actually do, so that was the decision."
For the first time, a Smith soundtrack features songs by one of New Jersey's other favourite sons, Bruce Springsteen: the title song and My City Of Ruins. Given Smith's experiences with Prince, recounted in An Evening With Kevin Smith, which is currently in rotation on TMN, I had to ask if Springsteen was easier to deal with.
"Tremendously easier. All I had to do was write the guy a letter. Jersey Girl was easy, because that's a Tom Waits song, but he didn't want to license from The Rising. I reminded him that we'd met at a benefit and he'd told me he liked Chasing Amy, and I also pointed out that My City Of Ruin isn't about 9/11, it's about Asbury Park, and my movie's set less than 20 miles away from Asbury Park.
"He let us have it."