Last year, I began re-watching the View Askew films for the first time in over a decade. In my late teens and early twenties, these films (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma) were something I watched dozens of times. The DVD sets for these releases were truly phenomenal and I ate up every special feature and commentary track just soaking up all things Kevin Smith.
As time went on, my fandom waned and with so many options at my fingertips, I found other movies and series to get into. Then one day, I realized it had been several years since I had last hung out with Jay, Silent Bob, Dante, Randal, TS, Brody, and the like. So, I started re-watching the films, very slowly.
Unfortunately, most of my physical media is currently sitting in a storage unit, so I don’t have access to everything I own. I watched Dogma before I moved in with my parents, and I didn’t think I’d get a chance to watch Jersey Girl until I got my next place. But last weekend, I noticed it was streaming on HBO Max, so I sat down to watch Jersey Girl for the first time in over a decade.
My initial thoughts were: damn this movie is just as good as I remember and screw Kevin Smith for constantly shitting on it.
A bit more hostile than I’d like to be, but it’s the truth. Except, I didn’t say screw.
Jersey Girl was the turning point for Kevin Smith and his movies. It was his first attempt at going straight. He was given an adequate budget to tell a personal story that would appeal to the masses. Thanks for his friendship with Ben Affleck, he had a huge star along with his girlfriend at the time, Jennifer Lopez in a supporting role. The always great George Carlin was featured, along side the hysterical Stephen Root. And of course, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the reuniting of Armageddon’s greatest couple: Liv Tyler joins Ben Affleck as a love interest.
So, with a great cast, a personal story, the Oscar winning cinematographer, and a solid score, what went wrong?
Well, movie wise… nothing. The film is very enjoyable. It has the typical Kevin Smith humor toned down for a wider audience. It has a great story, where Ben Affleck has to show a little range. Will Smith pops up in a cameo, and it’s a feel good movie. It’s by far the best looking Kevin Smith film and the soundtrack is quite solid. It just didn’t do well at the box office.
Critics hated it, and the public was irritated with the media’s fascination with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. They both starred in a movie called Gigli that many called the worse movie ever made at the time. (Side note: I watched it and I wouldn’t even call it bad. It was actually decent.) Just mentioning Affleck and Lopez in another movie was enough to turn most folks off.
But, most of Kevin Smith’s were not critically embraced. So, this shouldn’t have come to a surprise. Sadly, Kevin Smith turned of the film almost instantly. Like Mallrats, Kevin rushed to be the first person to make a joke before someone else could. It’s the old “fat kid” defense. It’s better to have them laughing with you, than at you.
It’s always bothered me that Kevin rolled over on the film, because it’s very entertaining. During my re-watch, I was blown away by how much fun the film is and what great pacing it has. My wife woke up half way through it and watched it to the end and thought it was great. She didn’t even believe me when I said it was a Kevin Smith film.
After Jersey Girl’s failure, Kevin Smith dove back into the View Askew Universe with Clerks II before making his copy-cat Judd Apatow movie Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Then came his only feature length directing gig of something he didn’t write, Cop Out and that was when it all fell apart. Red State was decent, but everything that followed was pretty terrible. I personally like Clerks II and Zack and Miri, but you can tell the Kevin Smith I fell in love with had exited the building. The person who made those movies was someone else, and with each failure afterwards it got more and more ugly. I really think Jersey Girl’s failure just broke his confidence so bad. He felt like he couldn’t make a straight movie and that made him less of a director than his peers.
This year, Clerks III comes out and I’ll be there to watch it, just like I have every Kevin Smith film that has come out. But unlike Jersey Girl, which I was in the theater opening night, I’ll catch it when it’s convenient and I’ll go in with low expectations.