In `Jersey Girl,' the slacker king tests his fan base

Movies: on screen, DVD/ Video

March 25, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

It's heartwarming.

It's romantic.

And in its most touching moments, Kevin Smith's new film is, dare we say, even poignant.

Yes, the man who brought you Clerks, Mallrats and other snarky gems now delivers Jersey Girl, a PG-13 tale that chronicles, in earnest, one fictional family's story of love, loss and family bonding. (The film opens tomorrow.)

So how could all of this lovey-dovey stuff come from a writer-director who's considered by many to be the king creator of all that's foul and funny?

If you ask the man himself, he'll tell you it's all about environment.

"[I] write the stuff that I know. Each movie has been sort of a snapshot of what's going on in my life when I was writing it," Smith said.

Jersey Girl was no different.

Three years ago, Smith (the guy known in several of his movies as the quiet, calmer half of the stoner-slacker duo Jay and Silent Bob) scripted the film while enmeshed in his demanding real-life roles as a new husband and father (daughter Harley will be 5 years old in June).

So it's no shock that the movie's plot surrounds neophyte parent Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck) and his young daughter, Gertie (Raquel Castro).

"[Jersey Girl] came about from being a dad. It's not a movie that I would have thought to make if I wasn't a father," said Smith, who called his latest creation a piece "about the three tiers of adulthood: getting a job, getting married and having children."

And while this most recent effort seems a natural artistic progression for the New Jersey native, the project may befuddle and even anger fans who've grown used to his distinctive edgy, frank, sometimes sophomoric and over-the-top humor.

Though he feels no need to explain the film's more mainstream qualities to his cult of fans, Smith (who'll participate in a Q&A with fans April 2 at the University of Maryland) is keenly aware of his die-hard admirers' temperament and taste.

In fact, the 33-year-old said he's even spent months warning these devotees about Jersey Girl through his production company's Web site, an Internet space known as the View Askewniverse (

"I did spend a good bit of time prepping the Jay and Silent Bob [fans]," he noted, calling from Boston while promoting the film.

That said, Smith has faith in his following and believes many will accept -- and perhaps even enjoy -- the Jersey Girl story, despite its lack of gratuitous sexual humor, potty jokes and all those f-words.

But is there a subtle message directed at them in the film's tagline, which tells audiences, "Forget about who you thought you were, and just accept who you are"?

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar," he said.

"The movie tagline is certainly not a hidden message to the fan base," about future plans, Smith further explained. "It's not like I'm gonna keep making these grown-up movies now. It just felt like the movie to make at the time."

His next projects include directing big-screen adaptations of the comic book The Green Hornet and Fletch Won, a book from the Gregory McDonald series that spawned the uber-silly Chevy Chase films of the '80s.

So what will come of his losers-turned-heroes Jay and Silent Bob? Only time will tell what the future holds, Smith said.

Though the characters are "not as gone as [he] would have assumed two years ago," there's no new film about the characters in the works.

It seems that now, more than ever, this writer-director and comic-book-store owner is focusing on experiencing the journey rather than the sticking to one course.

If fans can't understand this new direction, Smith said he'll understand. And if people can relate to his newfound moviemaking path, then that's all the better.

"[The films] are all kind of personal on one level or another. [You] throw yourself out there and hope that people identify," Smith said.

"And it's always really gratifying when people do."

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