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Ollie Trinke, a Manhattan PR whiz at the top of his game, meets and falls in love with Gertrude Steiney. Soon they’re married and have a child on the way. Unfortunately, Gertrude dies during childbirth, and Ollie is left to raise baby Gertie with only the help of his father.
Ollie quickly learns that raising a baby and maintaining a high-powered career do not mix, and when he's forced to bring his crying infant to a big publicity event, he loses his temper and cusses out both his client and the journalists in attendance. So much for the high-powered career! After Ollie loses his job he has to move out of his swank Manhattan apartment and back home to his father’s house in a decidedly blue-collar town in New Jersey, where he takes a job driving the municipal street sweeper. Soon he meets the bewitching beauty Maya, who works in a video store. What follows is a lesson in priorities and commitment and learning who you really are versus who you think you’d like to be.
The importance of marriage and commitment permeate this film, as do many lessons in parenting. Ollie still desperately loves his wife seven years after her death. Ollie’s father, a cantankerous old coot for the most part, is smarter than he lets on and seven-year-old Gertie sees through the veneer and lovingly calls him Pops. The sanctity of sex only in marriage is stressed at one point (but then undermined in another). Gertrude, while pregnant, gently confronts Ollie about his priorities, saying, “You have to stop being the guy who works late and become the guy who’s home at six and hangs out with his family.”
Bart has a statue of Mary in his front yard. Gertie attends a Roman Catholic school, although there’s not a priest or a nun to be found in its hallways or classrooms. Likewise, a funeral scene has no priest or minister, although some mourners cross themselves. A singer sings the spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
Bart, not knowing that Cats is a Broadway play, asks, “Is it something from the Bible?” Ollie, who hates the play, responds, “Yeah, from the Satanic Bible.” One character says, “They’ll crucify us upside down!” His friend says, “Like Saint Peter.” The first man snaps back, “Who are you, the Holy Father?” When elementary school kids read essays about their families, one says his parents are religious because he often hears them in the bedroom yelling “Jesus!”
Maya unintentionally embarrasses Ollie and wants to make it up to him. When Ollie says there’s no need, she says, “C’mon, you’re ruining my karma level.” He responds, “You’re trying to get square with Krishna?” To which she responds jokingly, “Hari, Hari.” A man driving a street sweeper, when asked what he’s doing, responds sarcastically, “I’m searching for Christ.”
Ollie and Gertrude are seen eagerly stripping off each other’s clothes as they go through their front door. It’s not clear by the context whether they’re married yet, but earlier, when introduced to Ollie’s father, Gertrude says, “I was only going to sleep with him a few more times” before dumping him—implying they've yet to tie the knot. Bart responds, “While I’m out, stay off my bed.”
Gertrude attends a fancy gala while pregnant, in tears that she looks “fat.” Ollie reassures her that all the movie stars and models are thin only because “they’re coked-up whores.” Gertrude responds, “I want to be a whore.”
A young boy and girl show each other their genitals (nothing is seen). To his credit, when Ollie catches them, he says, “Only married boys and girls are allowed to show each other their private parts.” In no time at all, however, Gertie catches him and Maya on the verge of having sex and lectures back at Ollie. (Viewers see Maya in her bra.) Gertie unintentionally cracks a joke about genital size.
In a video store, Ollie sends Gertie off to the children’s section while he stands outside the adults-only room. Embarrassed to go inside, he blindly reaches in and grabs a box, which turns out to be a gay video. The clerk asks if he’s “exploring his homosexuality.” Maya asks Ollie if he rents porn videos to masturbate to. When he looks shocked—he’s only just met her—she asks why he’s embarrassed. “I sometimes do it twice a day,” she says. Another time she says, “An interest in adult films is healthy so long as it doesn’t become habitual.”
On hearing that Ollie hasn’t gotten “laid” in the seven years since his wife died, Maya offers him a “mercy jump.” Gertie likes Maya and asks her dad when she will grow “boobies” like Maya has. An actor says he’s “hung like a horse.” A publicist, in all seriousness, explains Madonna’s “sexploitation” as a need to show the world her labia. A man jokes about George Michael’s sexuality.
Viewers twice see a stage production of Sweeney Todd, and each time they see a straight razor slitting a man’s throat, which gushes fake blood.
Crude or Profane Language
One use of the f-word. Upwards of 20 uses of the s-word, often as a barnyard epithet. “A--” and "h---" make up the bulk of the many milder profanities, but God’s name is abused at least 10 times (often as “g--d--n") and Jesus' name gets drug through the mud an additional 10 times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Ollie and Maya smoke cigarettes. Bart is frequently seen drinking beer. Some scenes are in a bar; the seven-year-old Gertie is with the guys in one of them. Ollie toasts colleagues with champagne. Bart jokes that he’s an alcoholic. As Ollie prepares a bottle of formula for the baby, Bart takes a beer out of the fridge; Ollie jokes, “Eight o’clock and you both get your bottle.”
Ollie accidentally gets baby powder all over his shirt, prompting a journalist to ask if it’s “blow” (cocaine). Bart tells Gertie he loves her but dreads her teens, when “boyfriends and reefer” become issues.
Other Negative Elements
Bathroom humor and crude conversations are sprinkled throughout. PR types cynically admit that they’re “slinging bulls---” but continue to do it anyway because it pays well. Viewers see a baby girl’s privates during a diaper-changing scene. Ollie holds a poopy diaper in a man’s face.
Gertie sees an opportunity to blackmail her dad and Maya, and it’s played for laughs. (It’s implied, too, that Maya steals from her employer by allowing Gertie to “rent” videos free.)
This movie was originally rated R, but its makers lobbied to get it down to a PG-13 and made a few cuts. I’d hate to see what they cut, because it still deserves an R. The showing I attended was full of parents and children apparently fooled by the sweet previews and the PG-13 rating. Sadly, only one family got up and walked out.
Anyone familiar with director Kevin Smith could have guessed what was coming. He’s known for his creative crassness and his irreverence (emphasis on the ir—check out our review of Dogma for details). He loves to yank people’s chains, and while he is apparently trying to turn a career corner here, he just couldn’t shrug off that much crud in one outing.
That's a shame, because Jersey Girl could have been a great movie. Many of its lessons are positive. Marriage is important. Being a good parent is important. Respecting your parents is important. Loyalty is important. Sex is only for marriage. Regrettably, Smith forgot one other important lesson: be consistent in what you communicate.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Ben Affleck as Ollie Trinke; Raquel Castro as Gertie Trinke; George Carlin as Bart Trinke; Liv Tyler as Maya; Jennifer Lopez as Gertrude Steiney; Matt Damon and Will Smith in brief cameo appearances