Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch
Tales of family at the movies, on the bookshelves

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the April 29, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

Director Kevin Smith, known for edgy movie fare such as Clerks, Dogma and Chasing Amy, has recently given us a mainstream romantic comedy in his new Jersey Girl.

With nary a cuss word and lots of old-fashioned sentiment, Smith gives us a rather beautiful portrayal of a single father raising an 8-year-old daughter after the tragic death of her mother at the child’s birth.

Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck) marries the woman of his life, Gertrude (Jennifer Lopez). He is a hot-shot New York music publicist used to the good life. During childbirth, Gertrude dies. Ollie does not take well to caring for a baby and doing his high-powered job. He pawns the child off on his colorful father, Bart, wonderfully played by comedian George Carlin. Grandfather, after a month or so, says “No more.” At a giant publicity event at Hard Rock Cafe, Ollie has baby in tow and has trouble changing a diaper. In anger that the celebrity Will Smith has not shown up, he disses the press and Smith. Naturally, he loses his job.

Ollie takes a job with his Dad and the street maintenance department in Highlands, N.J. There is an early monologue with Ollie talking to his baby daughter, where he begins to really take on his role as father.

The years slip by. Daughter Gertie (Raquel Castro) loves her life as a student at St. Maria Goretti School. But Dad would love to move back to Manhattan and the fast and exciting world he misses. Gertie is very happy in New Jersey, thank you. Here the conflict for the rest of the movie resides.

Within that context Ollie meets Maya (Liv Tyler), a clerk at the local video store. Thus the romantic subplot increases as Ollie deals with moving on from the love of deceased Gertrude to new possibilities of life with Maya.

Jersey Girl has a section that comes out of the tradition of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies. Gertie gets her family and friends to put on a scene from the dark and brooding Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd for a school pageant.

By the end of this film you will definitely know that Kevin Smith does not like the musical Cats or its premier song, “Memory.” You will also see lots of statues of Mary and the saints as Smith wears his New Jersey Catholicism on his sleeve. Yes, there is a discussion on whether St. Peter was crucified upside down or not.

Ben Affleck, who was very good in the Good Friday-themed film Changing Lanes, is impressive as the young, successful man learning what it means to be a father. Liv Tyler is enchanting as the very lively video salesperson. Raquel Castro is very cute as the precocious Gertie.

One of the best scenes in the film is between Affleck and the real Will Smith, waiting in a reception area of a large publicity firm. Their give and take is almost worth the price of the film.

Matt Damon has a small role as a PR Executive. Jason Briggs is great as Ollie’s associate who later tries to help him get back in the business.

Jersey Girl’s Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). There is some strong language and sexual content.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Jersey Girl A-III – adults.

Book Review

In March I accidentally ran into Leif Kehrwald while spending a few days on vacation. Leif and I were colleagues at St. Patrick Parish in the Hillyard area of Spokane in the late ’70s and early ’80s. He and his wife lived in the parish Youth House and he was the leader of the parish’s youth ministry. Leif, now living in Portland is an editor and workshop leader for Saint Mary Press (“Former Spokane youth minister talks to parents in new book,” IR 3/18/04).

Book Cover: Sacred GiftsHe passed on to me a book he edited: Sacred Gifts: Extraordinary Lessons from My Ordinary Teens, by Tina Brennan. Tina lives in Yakima, where she and her husband, Vince, have raised seven children. Her thoughtful and well-written book centers on how events in her teenage children’s lives affected her. Basically she tells the stories of how each of her teenage children enriched and changed her life.

Tina Brennan is a great storyteller. Her 10 stories of her children, with names changed for publication, are memorable and very helpful for anyone such as a parent or teacher who has contact with teens. In fact, I wonder if her stories could be used with teens in a class as a basis of discussion on key issues of family and school life.

One story centers on Sean, who enters a pentathlon at age 14 with strong hopes of going on to nationals in Nebraska. Early in the first event of hurdles he falls and all hopes seemed dashed. Mother weeps within as she watches the dramatic accident and hopes they can just go home quietly. But Sean decides to continue on in all five events, even though he has no chance to win. He is so energized, his point score brings him in second. The story’s twist both surprises and teaches us about competition and life.

One of my favorite stories centers on Sean again, at age 13, who is challenging his folks at an evening meal over a decision preventing an older brother, Mike, from continuing in sports because he had gotten a C in math. This story, “The Gift of Advocacy,” really tugs at your heart strings. It is powerful to see a younger brother do the maximum to enable his older brother to continue to play sports. The one C leading to “no sports” seems totally unfair to Sean. Yet family rules have been agreed upon. How this all works out when Mike gets his math grade up to a B- and the question becomes, can he now go back to sports? is a very interesting journey.

Mrs. Brennan has a way with words. She allows you to feel with parents and be edified by very human teens.

Brennan’s stories seem very real. She somehow translates in a very compassionate way the conflict with the coach, the “meltdown” of a son at school, or the very wonderful gifts of a son’s homemade cake or a daughter’s gift of taking care of the smaller children so Mom can have a day joyfully reading lots of library books.

Each chapter often connects with stories from the Bible and a short piece from contemporary writers like Fathers Richard Rohr or Henri Nouwen. Brennan has a section at the end of each chapter, “Opening the Gift,” with thoughtful questions that could be used for prayer or discussion.

In Sacred Gifts, Tina Brennan has given us all a great gift. She helps us see the incredible gift our teenagers are and what a wonderful challenge it is to be a parent.

(Sacred Gifts: Extraordinary Lessons from My Ordinary Teens (2003) by Tina Brennan is published in softcover at $10.95 by Saint Mary’s Press, Winona, Minn.)

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews frequently appear in the Cheney Free Press.)

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