28 Days of Black Movies: ‘Jean of the Joneses’ is a pleasantly awkward and bizarre jaunt through uncovering family secrets and unpacking intergenerational trauma
“John of the Joneses” (Search Engine Films)
I fell on John of the Joneses the way I discover a lot of film noir: browse Amazon Prime and start playing any film where the cover looks even remotely interesting and full of noir. I can’t tell you how many really terrible movies I’ve watched because of it; if I start watching a movie, there’s usually a pretty good chance I’ll see it through to the end.
Anybody, John of the Joneses was one of those pleasant surprises. I didn’t know what to expect and found myself enjoying it, even though I really had no idea what I was watching as the first hour and more. It’s hard to describe, but much of the movie is full of family banter and talk, weird side convos, and weird layers that are there to help you understand the family dynamic.
Jean Jones, the main character played by Taylor Paige, is a writer who has just been fired by her boyfriend and returns to her family in Brooklyn. During what appears to be Sunday dinner, a strange man shows up at the door and has a heart attack on the doorstep. He dies. This dead black man turns out to be Jean’s grandfather, a man whose grandmother said the rest of the family left them to return to Jamaica; Turns out he’s been living in Harlem for 20 years.
What happens next is both traumatic and comical. Family secrets: The grandmother was mad at him so she lied to her three daughters – one of whom is Jean’s mother – and said he was gone, denying them a father for decades . At the same time, Gordon (grandfather) also didn’t really seem to introduce himself. So it’s like a fragmented family, with lots of secrets, forced to confront what that means with Jean who makes sure all the dirty laundry is aired out.
In the midst of it all, Jean’s aunt, Anne (the youngest of her aunts; they function more like sisters) gets impregnated by a doctor at the hospital where she works; Jean’s resentful mother must deal with the trauma of losing the father she thought had left her, which caused her to have problems connecting with her daughter; and his or soon-to-be-divorced Aunt Janet found out Gordon has ANOTHER daughter in Queens. Grandma, though? Grandma knew everything. She just decided she was pissed at Gordon, so she kept it all to herself and set in motion a family full of kids with daddy issues that they pass on to their kids. If the Madrigal family didn’t talk about Bruno, the Jones family really didn’t talk about Gordon.
Here’s the thing about this movie, I wrote it all down and tied it all together (hopefully), but it was pretty hard to discern what was really going on. Jean is the main character and is going through a breakup and a new romance with Ray (Mamadou Athiethe main character of the movie Blocked and the Netflix series, Archives 81, among others). Jean doesn’t commit to Ray and plays with her emotions because she struggles to cope with the death of a grandfather she didn’t know and never met, which suddenly exposes his family. But because she’s so cool and weird, her convos are bonkers but compelling. So you don’t really know what the purpose of the movie is; is it about her or about the family? Is it about uncovering family secrets or a romantic comedy? It’s really those two things, but they work in such a unique way that at first I just felt like it was a plotless movie that featured lots of black people and a jazz soundtrack. Gordon was a jazz musician, so the soundtrack does wonders, by the way.
In the end, however, I really enjoyed what I saw and liked how it turned out. It’s a Black slice-of-life movie; you see a family struggling with something and the ripple effects. This is black life. Full stop. I enjoyed that and their family felt familiar; Jean is clearly a very smart and creative ass trying to find her way in life, and I hope she does. She found a way to help her family start the healing process, and what family doesn’t need a little healing? It also helps that there’s comedy, because Jean…is funny.
Anyway, every once in a while I come across a film noir that is new to me and that I wish more people had seen so I could tell them about it. John of the Joneses is one of those movies worth watching if nothing more than watching the version of young Blackness so many of us are in our early twenties. She was an awkward black girl in the same way that Issa made cool; therefore it is not surprising that Stella Meghie ends up writing and directing The photograph in 2020; the films share many similarities in style and tone and use music.
If you are looking for an interesting, strange and enjoyable film, add John of the Joneses to your life.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at the Grio. He writes very dark things and drinks very dark liquors, and is rather classy for a lightweight guy. His greatest accomplishment to date coincides with his darkest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after reading one of her articles (the most important), but he didn’t. Didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).
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