Ben Affleck and director Kevin Smith joked about Jennifer Lopez not being at the premiere of "Jersey Girl" last night, but it was gentle ribbing.
Said Smith to the audience at the Ziegfeld: "The reason we started late, we were waiting for J-Lo. I guess she's not coming."
That was understatement. The pair joked around about Smith's movies not making money for Miramax, and Harvey Weinstein joked about all of them being in a family that sometimes fights but always gets back together.
And this was all before the movie started.
Affleck came to the screening with mother and stepfather and some friends from Boston. Co-star Liv Tyler brought husband Royston Langdon, mom Bebe Buell, Buell's husband Jim Wallerstein, Buell's mom Dorothea Johnson and Liv's cousin Annie, who came down from Maine. (Buell, by the way, celebrated signing with IMG Models on Monday night at the hot new Cafe Spice in Midtown.) Tyler's table was most certainly a family affair at the after-party at the Hard Rock Cafe.
Affleck told me that he's two films away from taking an actual break.
"If the script is ready, I'll do 'Glory Road' in the summer," he said. The movie is about the first all-black NCAA college championship basketball team. Affleck will play the coach who led them to victory.
But the break is more problematic. Where can he go and play poker and not be photographed, I asked?
"Bangladesh," he said.
The word around Affleck is that he's starting to tire of acting and would like to do something else, like, of course, directing. In the meantime, he and Matt Damon are trying to develop a script based on a novel by Dennis Lehane ("Mystic River") called "Gone Baby Gone."
And what of the great Affleck-Lopez bust-up? Did Ben's mom really intervene? What happened after all?
Well, there were several people at the dinner last night who knew the story. One of them told me: "Chris [Ben's mom] had nothing to do with it. In fact, she liked Jennifer and got to be friends with her mom. But a one-sentence observation in the Boston Herald turned into fact and suddenly Chris was to blame for the wedding being called off. It was completely untrue."
Just in case you were wondering.
OK, so last night we finally got to see Kevin Smith's film, "Jersey Girl," the one that stars Affleck with a cameo by Lopez.
That sound of 1,000 people exhaling simultaneously in the Ziegfeld Theatre was the audience — which had held its collective breath in anticipation of another "gobble, gobble" turkey — relaxing and actually enjoying this romantic comedy.
It's not bad, you could hear people saying under their breath. In fact, it's OK, it's pretty good.
Even the biggest naysayers will never be able to say "Jersey Girl" is "Gigli II." As purely a date movie, it works, and it's even a little more than that, thanks to Smith's under-handedness and inside jokes.
You knew the director of "Dogma" and "Chasing Amy" couldn't just make a straight-ahead studio comedy. "Jersey Girl" has just enough "meta" stuff in it to make Smith's fans happy.
For example: a video rental store filled with only Miramax titles, lots of smart references to Catholicism (Mel Gibson should pay attention to these), the voice of Miramax's Harvey Weinstein on a phone call from one of Affleck's fictional clients.
J-Lo does in fact start out in the movie as Affleck's wife, but she is quickly dispensed with. That part of the film lasts about 12 minutes, and Lopez's departure is actually affecting.
From then on, though, the movie takes shape as Affleck plays the widowed dad of a 7-year-old girl (Raquel Castro, a frighteningly gifted actress). George Carlin is Ben's grumpy blue-collar dad, and Liv Tyler — in a really neat performance — is his love interest.
Affleck and Tyler, who starred together in "Armageddon," have terrific chemistry that isn't forced. It helps that Smith has written them a slow-paced, open-ended, off-beat romance.
For Affleck, who often seems stiff in non-action roles, the work here hearkens back to "Chasing Amy" and "Good Will Hunting."
Tyler, though, makes the biggest leap forward after three years of speaking Elvish in "Lord of the Rings." She has a nice comic quality, previously seen only in Robert Altman's "Cookie's Fortune." Now Tyler seems surer of herself, and ever more charming.
Like a lot of studio films, "Jersey Girl" has a lot of logic problems. They mostly concern Affleck and his job as a music publicist, which he loses. That part of the film is sort of "Jerry Maguire Lite" but without the little nuances of verisimilitude that would help make "Jersey Girl" more convincing. There's also a little too much soundtrack music, including, improbably, Bruce Springsteen's "My City in Ruins."
On the upside, there's a new Aimee Mann song. But one or two fewer jukebox hits would have been just fine.
And there's also a recreated scene from "Sweeney Todd" that's performed well enough but is too long a joke. (The 7-year-old chooses it for her school talent show, while all the other kids sing "Memory" from "Cats.")
As a "Sweeney Todd" aficionado, I'm always happy to hear the show's score. Smith told me last night how much the show meant to him, too. I just don't know if it works in the middle of this story.
Still, "Jersey Girl" should be a good-sized hit along the lines of "Love Actually" or "While You Were Sleeping." I think it will break the Miramax jinx of not being able to make and market romantic comedies. The long list of failures includes "Duplex," "Serendipity" and "Kate & Leopold."
I'm sure there will be those who will harp about inconsistencies. But this is a commercial success with some nice smart stuff included. And pretty much everyone comes out a winner. You can't ask for more than that.
Diana Ross has had a lot of problems lately, what with DUI convictions, jail time and her billionaire ex-husband dying. But here's a new one.
On a new Supremes greatest-hits CD issued by Universal Music, Ross' lead vocals have been mixed in with those of Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, the two other Supremes, giving the latter two women their first due in 40 years.
Universal, which owns Motown's catalog, makes no mention of the substantial change in the liner notes for "Supremes Number Ones." But the new edition, released in time for the Motown 45th anniversary in May, is supposed to replace all previous versions of Supremes greatest-hits packages for new generations of buyers.
On previous editions, and in all the "classic" versions, Ross' voice was always mixed much farther forward than Wilson's and Ballard's. The result was that the other women's voices were sometimes not heard clearly. But now, on songs like "Reflections" and "Where Did Our Love Go?" the other two original Supremes sound, well, Supreme.
Universal engineer Suha Gur, in taking direction from the catalog's producers, told me he wanted to improve the sound of previous releases.
"I kept saying, 'Why didn't they do this in the first place?'" Gur said yesterday. "When we put them up and heard what the tracks sounded like."
Gur used the master tapes from Motown, which were multi-tracks with Ross' voice often on different tapes than Wilson's and Ballard's. The vocals were all separated from the instrumentals, which gave him a lot of latitude in moving things around.
"Some people can't stand it because they weren't the original versions," Gur said. "A small percentage of hardcore fans have complained."
Gur, by the way, reports to two producers, who instructed him to improve the old records' sound.
But I can tell you, this is one of the few times you should go out and re-buy an album. Hearing Wilson and Ballard clearly shows they were not just Ross' backup singers, and that the Supremes were very much a group dependent on three voices.
And no, so far no one at Universal Mastering has heard from Miss Ross on this subject. But give her time.