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Friday Film Review: love jones (1997)

Grade: B+
Genre: Romantic Comedy (1997)
Certificate: 15

Dear Theodore Witcher,

A few days ago, someone suggested I should review Bridget Jones’s Diary. I searched for it in my DVD library and found your film love jones instead.

love jones – which you’ve also scripted – is a simple and predictable romantic comedy and yet, not as straightforward as other romantic comedies.

At a jazz/poetry club in Chicago, aspiring novelist Darius Lovehall (Larenz Tate) is all set to give a poetry reading when he meets Nina Mosley (Nia Long), a photographer assistant who has enough talent to rise up high.

Their brief exchange at the bar intrigues Darius enough to change the title of his poem: “A Blues for Nina” on spot.
We slowly discover the poem is quite sexually charged. Nina doesn’t know what to make of it, but begrudgingly acknowledges an attraction between them.

After a chance encounter with Nina at a record shop, Darius talks Sheila, his close friend who works at the record shop as an assistant, into giving him Nina’s address taken from a cheque that Nina used to purchase a CD. When he shows up at her place, she unsurprisingly is suspicious.

Here, we expect to see the routine of a typical romantic comedy: a montage of two people falling in love and dealing with the slapsticky chaos-’possibly caused by their friends or a misunderstanding-’that might push them apart and bring them closer, but it doesn’t happen.

Nina has baggage: she’s recovering from an ended relationship and trying to decide whether she’s still in love with her ex. As for Darius, his friends are surprised to see him falling for Nina so hard, and so fast, which makes him defensive and trying to play cool. Both Nina and Darius separately tell their friends it isn’t serious. They are only kicking it. But are they, really?

As they struggle with communication problems and honesty while sorting out their feelings, their close friends chime in with their opinions of what defines romance, sex, relationships, and love. And when it’s the right time to get serious.

I don’t know where to start, or what to say. At best, love jones is a patchwork of gems, false notes, strengths, weaknesses, shallow moments and wonderful insights. And a lot of ups and downs. It is a romantic comedy, but at same time, it isn’t. It’s not quite a typical drama, either. I would describe it as a slice of life of twentysomethings with a network of friends. In other words: it’s a lad/chick lit novel on screen.

Regardless of how I feel about the sum of your script, the dialogue is what makes your story work. There is always a line, every five or ten minutes, that has me giving a smile of recognition. At times, it got me laughing out loud. Occasionally, quietly choking up with an emotion. Such as these:

Sheila: You coming through to my party?
Darius: No. I can’t mess with your parties. Y’all don’t serve food.
Sheila: Aren’t you something?
Darius: Carrots? I need some food that had parents, man.

Wood: I don’t need poetry to get women.
Sheila: No. You need a personality to get women.
Savon: Try a breath mint and a Visa.

Savon: You guys are always hoppin’ and fallin’ in love. Love ain’t what it is. It’s easy to fall in love, but will someone, please, tell me how to stay there?

Nina: It’s like-his dick talked to me.
Josie: –.what did it say?

In spite of the witty dialogue, sneaky innuendoes, some solid performances, the familiarity of some situations and the unpredictability of the predictable, it has flaws.
Characters I liked most are Savon (Isaish Washington) and, surprisingly, Darius.
I was surprised because I didn’t take to his personality well at the beginning. I found him too pushy, cocky, and a bit of smooth talker. At times it seemed his mind was tied to sex because his poetry, dialogue and lines of thinking were to do with sex. But then again, that’s what the story is partly about. I won’t go further with this because I think if I did, it’ll spoil the story. It took a little under an hour before I finally warmed up to Darius. And there were his moustache and goatee, which made him a left-over of the 1970s. Shallow of me, I know, but I found it distracting.
Nia Long does well as Nina, too. I didn’t ever bond with Nina like I eventually did with Darius, though. I think perhaps because she kept sending mixed messages as well as having double standards. Perhaps that was your point because to be fair, Darius did the same to Nina, hence all these ups and downs of their new relationship.
Savon is another favourite character because he’s the one who’s married in Darius’s circle of close friends. This sets him slightly apart from his friends and he knows it. You gave him a sub-plot that others didn’t have: a struggle of his own. He has to deal with the complexity of his marriage while coping with the knowledge his single friends don’t understand what it’s all about. I thought actor Isaish Washingon as Savon gave a solid performance, considering his small screen time.
As for the rest of the cast, they were mostly just the sounding boards for Nina and Darius, but I didn’t mind because they did have small moments of their own that I enjoyed. Especially when the invisible lines of friendship were crossed and when they provided witty lines, insights and a strong sense of friendship, which is always a great thing to have in films of this kind. Same for your clear appreciation of poetry and music, which you used in the film from time to time, which was nice. I’m not a huge fan of poetry, but in this film, it worked.
However, I sometimes felt I was watching a student feature film because it has had its moments of self-consciousness and once in a while, erratic pacing. The running time is, I felt, too long. During the last 40 minutes, I could feel my patience was running on empty, which somewhat lessened the impact of the sweet conclusion. These are classic signs of a student feature film or the work by a self-indulgent director.
I didn’t know at the time, though, that love jones was indeed your debut directorial effort and your first script. In fact, love jones is your first and only directorial effort to date. This alone bumps the grade B- to B+. It’s a film that I think both men and women would enjoy watching for a quiet Friday night in, especially if they enjoy witty banter among friends. And perhaps also for couples who secretly wonder how a relationship is supposed to be.
If you make another film, I’ll certainly watch it.

Be good, be bad & be safe,
Jaili

love jones trailer:
Available on VHS, DVD, Netflix, LoveFilm.com and major rental video shops

6 Comments

  1. LindaR (likari)
    Apr 04, 2009 @ 00:01:43

    This movie came on cable one rainy day several years ago just when I was in the mood for a romantic escape. I remembered that it got pretty good reviews when it was on theaters.

    I really liked it, but I haven’t seen it again since then. I’m going to have to rent it and watch it again. Thanks for reminding me!

  2. Barbara
    Apr 04, 2009 @ 06:12:45

    Thanks for the review, Jaili. I saw this movie when it was released and really enjoyed it. It’s too bad that the director didn’t get any more chances. Probably not enough coonery displayed.

  3. Maili
    Apr 04, 2009 @ 07:09:07

    @LindaR
    Thank you. In spite of its flaws, love jones is indeed a good film. I didn’t realise it received good reviews when it was released, though. Good to know. :)

    @Barbara
    I investigated to find out why he didn’t do any more work. It seems his second (and last) script ‘Body Count’, an art hiest thriller, received poor distribution support. That prompted him to make an unofficial announcement that he’s had it with it all. He’s directed a few music videos, though.

    I had to google to find out what ‘coonery’ is. :D Found it at Urban Dictionary: Coonery. An interesting addition to my mental dictionary. :P

    There are some excellent black films and it’s really frustrating many don’t get enough attention or recognition. My all-time favourite is Eve’s Bayou. Such a lyrical and haunting film, along with great performances from its cast. Especially from Jurnee Smollett. Eve’s Bayou is Oscar-worthy, IMO.

    What’s more, it was written and directed by Kasi Lemmons who went on to make another great film, Talk To Me (Don Cheadle and the cutie pie Chiwetel Ejiofor). IMO, Lemmons is one of the most underrated directors around. Watch both if you haven’t seen them yet.

    Sorry, I tend to ramble when comes to discussing good films. :D

  4. Barbara
    Apr 04, 2009 @ 09:46:40

    Maili said-
    “There are some excellent black films and it's really frustrating many don't get enough attention or recognition. My all-time favourite is Eve's Bayou. Such a lyrical and haunting film, along with great performances from its cast. Especially from Jurnee Smollett. Eve's Bayou is Oscar-worthy, IMO.”

    You’re right, Eve’s Bayou was great. I only wish more films of substance like it could get made and distributed properly. Understandably there are going to be less black films made than mainstream ones (in the U.S.), but it sickens me that Tyler Perry’s simple, sexist morality plays are so readlily available. I shouldn’t blame Perry for playing to his particular audience. I just wish that there were more nuanced and sophisticated fare to present a balanced counterpoint.

  5. Sonya
    Apr 04, 2009 @ 21:43:17

    Gah!

    I so love this movie…and the soundtrack is a classic!

  6. Maili
    Apr 05, 2009 @ 09:54:28

    @Barbara
    Aaaah! Yeah. The black film industry isn’t the only one that suffers from this problem, but at least it’s slowly finding its place in the mainstream industry (which should have happened in the first place, IMO).
    As you’d probably already guessed, this is due to the success of Tyler Perry, the Wayans brothers (I do admire them for having the sheer determination to keep at it since the 1970s to now) and others.
    It’s hard for me to handle when we know there are far better directors such as Antoine Fuqua, Kasi Lemmons, Tim Story, Forest Whitaker, Carl Franklin and a few others. But I do think it has to be done because it could help to create a fair balance of instant-gratification-fun films and the sophisticated ones, but it’s a criminally slow process, though.

    I’m more concerned about the state of American-Asian/Canadian-Asian/British-Asian films that are still battling against the restrictive expectations. My cousin tried to get his mainstream psychological thriller off ground, but everywhere he went, they told him that since all of his characters are Scottish-Chinese, it’ll not get funding because it doesn’t fit the funding criteria (for independent films).
    If he wants to get it off ground, he will have to make his two lead characters non-Chinese — or make the story more culture-oriented, family-oriented or racism-oriented — to qualify. Films from Asia are OK, but films from Asian communities in the UK and the US aren’t OK? F@cktw@ts.

    At least the black film industry is progressing far enough to be recognised as a profit-making industry, which is great, but it still has a long way to go. Especially in the UK. I think I’ve just talked myself into feeling depressed. I’m sorry if I made you feel that way, too. ::laughing::

    ~Sonya
    I loved the soundtrack, too! I ordered a copy of the soundtrack yesterday. :D

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