Written by Patrick Hao
At one point in Denzel Washington’s weepy romance, A Journal for Jordan, the camera pans to give us a full-screen view of Michael B. Jordan’s buttocks. What should be a momentous moment in filmic buttocks unfortunately landed with a thud. This is a microcosm of the problems that plague A Journal for Jordan, a film that has everything it needs to be successful in its genre but is undercut by its direction.
Based on the memoir of former New York Times editor and reporter, Dana Canedy (Chante Adams), the movie does not hide the fact that the romance between Dana and First Sgt. Charles Monroe King (Michael B. Jordan) is headed for tragedy. The film flashes back and forth in time. First, we see Dana during the aftermath of her fiancée’s death. He was a soldier deployed in Iraq when he was killed by a field mine, leaving Dana with their newborn son. Even so, we are introduced to Dana as a fiercely independent single mom, struggling with a son that is dealing with his own burgeoning masculinity without a father. From there, the film shows the burgeoning romance between Dana and Charles, two seemingly diametrically opposed people with one thing in common: they are both hot.
This film has all the elements of being a classic in the romantic drama canon. Adams and Jordan have a chemistry together that sparkles with Virgil William’s dialogue. There is a tension between Dana, as a daughter of a career military man, and all the sacrifices that come with that title, and this new love in her life. Williams is able to prod at that tension that is bolstered by Jordan’s ability to play rigid soldier boy, which makes any sparkle of Jordan’s natural charisma seep through even more special.
The problem is that every element that should be making A Journal for Jordan work is actively being undermined by Denzel Washington’s direction. As a director thus far, Washington has worked mainly in the respectable drama space. He directed inspirational true-to-life stories with Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters with the verve of any respectable actor-turn-director. He had much greater success with Fences. But all those movies allowed actors to shine. With a film like A Journal for Jordan, the goal should be to let movie stars shine.
Washington’s direction, however, is done with too much restraint and respect to the true-to-life story. There is an aching self-awareness that this is based on a real tragedy. Therefore, all the warmth is sucked out of the meet-cute and the romance of the two leads. In its stead is a gray blob prestige drama. More than once, Washington transitions into a new scene with the camera sneaking around an obstacle to catch his characters in action. It’s a choice that is baffling. One can only look to Washington’s choice of cinematographer, Maryse Alberti, who is great. But her work has been gritty dramas like Chappiquidck and Creed. That does not scream warm romance. Yet, A Journal for Jordan’s visual language is more akin to The Wrestler than Hope Floats or The Notebook.
The energy of this young love which should be the foundation of the movie’s tragedy is missing. You can imagine it being there if there was a director that could handle it. I couldn’t help but think how this material would have shone if the late great John Singleton could have worked with the same material. His works had a deftness of touch in films like Poetic Justice and Baby Boy that sparked true romantic chemistry without sacrificing the heavier elements of those films. Washington, as a director, does not have akin abilities, yet.
A Journal for Jordan still wrung out some tears in me. That just speaks to the power that is inherent to the material. But if you cannot make Michael B. Jordan’s ass exciting, something must be wrong with the movie.
A Journal for Jordan Trailer
A Journal for Jordan is playing in wide theatrical release.