Given the paucity of films written and directed by African-American females, I wanted Jean of the Joneses to be better than it actually is. Written and directed by Stella Meghie in her feature debut, the film is impressively shot and features professional editing. Meghie's talents in the writing department, however, are much more geared toward TV soap opera than indie drama.
Meghie's protagonist is Jean Jones (Taylour Paige), who has just broken up with her boyfriend and goes to dinner at the home of her grandmother, Daphne, the Jamaican born matriarch. Daphne has three children: Jean's mother Maureen; Ann, a nurse; and Janet, a motivational speaker.
In perfect soap opera tradition, who shows up at the front door but Daphne's estranged husband and errant father to his three daughters, Gordon. In a most unlikely scenario, he drops dead of a heart attack without even entering the home. Even more unlikely is that Daphne has lied to the family that Gordon went back to Jamaica and he never made any efforts to contact anyone (until showing up at the front door).
Jean, a writer, now broke after eating up an advance from a publishing company, ends up shuttling from one relative to the next. First she stays with Ann who reveals she's pregnant by a doctor at the hospital where she works. Like most of these female sourced soapers, men of various stripes end up as temporary villains, proving their worthlessness in the face of self-empowered females.
First of course there was the hopeless male patriarch Gordon, who commits the ultimate sin (having no contact at all with his daughters). Then there's the revelation by Ann that the doctor who has fathered her child has wandering eyes (Ann ends up confronting him and berates a female colleague he's been flirting with—as Jean watches from a car).
After a brief excursion at her mother's apartment, Jean stays with her other aunt Janet and we learn that she's separated from another bad boy--an ex-husband, who for a time appears to be an absolute ass. While at Janet's, Jean learns of a half-sister, Laura, who is stung after learning of Gordon's death.
It would be disingenuous of me not to mention there is a decent male character here—and that's Ray, a good-guy EMT, who falls for Jean and pursues her. Jean, in a one-note characterization, suffers from lack of self-esteem and one wishes that Meghie could have given Jean more of clever back story especially in terms of her profession, instead of making her a generic novelist suffering from writer's block.
After all the trouble brewed up by a coterie of males, it's time for the certifiable happy ending. Ann decides to keep the baby, Janet works things out with the ex-husband, critical mother Maureen tells Jean that she really loves her, and grandmother Daphne decides to give Jean Gordon's apartment, which he left to her in his will.
Jean gets her literary juices going again by writing a forward to Gordon's memoirs and starting to work on a new book. Oh I must not forget that Ray's persistence pays off as it appears he and Jean will become a couple.
Paige is decent as Jean but is saddled by Meghie's predictable self- deprecating characterization. Mamoudou Athie steals the show as Ray, who exudes a most welcome charm. The rest of the actors who constitute the "family," do well despite all the not quite believable histrionics.
Hopefully Meghie's next effort will not rely on such predictable tropes as a self-effacing protagonist and overly melodramatic plot twists. I can only conclude that the direction should be television soaps where her talent truly lies.
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