Love Jones (1997)

lovejones_2Starring Larenz Tate, Nia Long, Isaiah Washington, Lisa Nicole Carson, Bill Bellamy, Leonard Roberts, Bernadette Speakes, Khalil Kain, Cerall Duncan

Directed by Theodore Witcher

Expectations: Moderate.

threehalfstar


I knew Love Jones was going to be different right from the start. A laid-back groove played over the New Line Cinema logo and the first images on-screen were a series of black & white shots showing us the city of Chicago. This gives way to images of black neighborhoods, and then the smiling, unburdened faces of youth. These people are not our characters, they are merely the canvas that their story is painted on. It could be about them, but it happens to be about Nina (Nia Long) and Darius (Larenz Tate). The black & white vignette gives way to the first real scene of the film, as Nina is coming out of a long-term relationship and declaring that love is played out.

Given the genre of the film, it’s clear that someone is going to come along and change her mind. Darius is the clear candidate for that part when the two meet at a poetry reading in a downtown bar. Darius is all hot-fire and sexual energy, declaring to his friends (before he meets Nina) that romance is all about possibilities. When they’re exhausted, the relationship is over. While his explanation is poetic, it’s also short-sighted. Relationships are work, and possibilities can be renewed.

lovejones_3What’s great about these two characters and their relationship, is how their base philosophies and where they are in their lives affects their decisions and the course of the film. Both enter the relationship wanting nothing more than simple fun, but they both quickly develop feelings for one another. The trouble is that their philosophies have built up mental barriers that stop them from telling the other person how they truly feel, out of fear of rejection. While this is somewhat commonplace in a romantic film, it never feels contrived or forced in Love Jones, and this is what makes it such an interesting film to watch.

The strength of a film like this also hinges heavily on its stars and Nia Long and Larenz Tate do a fantastic job. They are believable, they are sexy, they are great together. The couples in the following films in this Black Love series will have a lot to live up to if they want to rival Nina and Darius’s on-screen chemistry. The supporting characters aren’t shabby either, as Isaiah Washington, Bill Bellamy and Lisa Nicole Carson all light up the screen when given their chances.

lovejones_4Underneath the quality cast and the acting is the talent of first-time writer/director Theodore Witcher. Only 24 years old at the time of Love Jones, Witcher’s script is full of great lines, great scenes and great drama. I loved how intellectual the film and its characters were, in a lot of ways it reminded me of Woody Allen’s films, where characters sit around a restaurant table and banter about the nature of the universe. Love Jones strikes a similar tone, and it’s exceptionally well done, so my first instinct after watching the film was to look on IMDB to see what else Witcher had done. So imagine my surprise when I saw that Love Jones was his only film.

I immediately had to know why, so I started searching. I quickly came upon this article from 2012 where Witcher laments the fact that he was never able to get funding for another film. I don’t want to get too angry here (we’re celebrating love after all), but the bullshit politics of Hollywood never fail to infuriate me. A young up-and-coming guy with this much talent can’t get a second movie off the ground? Witcher says the projects he pitched were more ambitious movies featuring large black casts, and this is undoubtedly what sunk his career. I long for the day when Hollywood isn’t the segregated industry it continues to be, presenting us with casts more representative of the America we all live in. Argh! OK, I’ll stop now, but it just gets me all worked up knowing that Witcher was denied a chance at a potentially fruitful career as a writer/director.

But even if Witcher never makes another film, at least he’s got Love Jones to his name. It’s a fantastic romantic drama that should delight anyone looking for one, and it’s got an incredibly diverse and awesome soundtrack, too. Any film that can deftly wield jazz, blues, reggae, hip hop, and ’90s R&B is doing something right. Love Jones is an excellent film to see and hear, and it’s one that definitely deserves more attention. Highly recommended.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOYPqcb_jig

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