February brings the opportunity to observe multiple celebrations on the Collab: Black History Month & Feminist February! Rather than choose one, we’ve opted to embrace both of these elements in this month’s theme, which will highlight Black women filmmakers. Kicking off the month is a film by a multi-talented writer & director who I presume is going to have the descriptor “Oscar-winning” in front of her name someday. Hmmmm…if the Oscars can get its shit together.
Jean of the Joneses
When her long-absent grandfather dies, Jean begins to uncover secrets that threaten to disrupt the already dysfunctional Jones family.
Despite showing great promise as a young writer upon the publication of her first novel, Jean Jones’ life has been rather meandering since. After her live-in boyfriend suggests they take a break, Jean has no choice but to plead with the women of her Jamaican-American family to take pity on her.
At the same time, Jones family life is about to implode as the bunch gathers for dinner at grandma’s, only to be interrupted by the arrival of an elderly man, who promptly dies. Jean seems to be the only member of the family willing to help the man, taking an ambulance trip with his body and fatefully meeting paramedic Roy. Surprisingly (but also not at all), the man turns out to be absentee patriarch of the family and Jean’s grandfather, Gordan.
It should be noted that everyone in Jean’s family has opinions, and they’re usually quite critical. While Jean is shocked over her grandfather’s sudden reappearance and death, her grandmother Daphne is merely annoyed he inconvenienced her by dying on her doorstep.
Meanwhile, Jean learns that her favorite aunt Anne is pregnant with a doctor’s child. Because Anne knows the doctor doesn’t care about her or the news at all, she decides to have an abortion. Though in need of some emotional support, Anne has not the patience for Jean’s messy lifestyle, sending her to stay with her frequently difficult and cutting mother.
While rotating between her relative’s homes, Jean learns more and more family secrets, including where her grandfather has been for the past 20+ years, how many new undisclosed family members she has(!), and exactly who knew which secrets & for how long. Oh, the scandal, dished out with appropriate levels of bitterness and sarcasm! Jean is harboring secrets of her own as she stalks her ex and pursues an on-again/off-again casual fling with Roy.
Appropriately, things all come to the surface at Gordan’s funeral service. After so much strain, will the family bond survive?
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
The characters and their relationships are at the core of this story, and they keep things compelling. I think the subtle approach works very well here–despite all of the shocking revelations, the Jones women by and large have realistic reactions rather than melodramatic soap opera-style stares. Their love language is definitely sarcasm, and the ways this is both frustrating and endearing to Jean comes across well.
Possibly because I’m tired of living in pandemic-induced limbo, there are times when watching Jean’s indecisiveness is frustrating. She’s (probably eternally) relatable as a 20-something character trying to get her shit together and failing miserably…and the film is necessarily a story of her growth. Even so, I really wanted her to give up on her ex way earlier and stop being so rude to Roy. She also reveals someone else’s secret to the family in a fashion that I find pretty sketchy, and this is just glossed over.
One other criticism: there’s a lot of family and personal drama happening here, which makes some of the elements of the plot feel rushed or not fully explored. In particular, I don’t really understand the choices Anne makes, though her relationship with Jean is one of the most heartfelt of the film. Roy doesn’t always feel like a necessary character, to be honest, but he’s so charming that I won’t complain too much.
Overall, this is an insightful look at family grief and dysfunction that feels real yet hopeful.
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