The collective litany of bland Hallmark movies trivializes how vital heartwarming films can be for moviegoers. Director Denzel Washington aims to correct that with this release that combines an inspirational story with How I Met Your Father. A mainstream romance film, A Journal for Jordan is exactly what it promises to be. Before asking, “why is Denzel Washington making this?” consider how few African American films aren’t built around suffering. Once more romcom leads look like Michael B. Jordan and Chanté Adams, then we can have that conversation.
A Journal for Jordan recounts the real-life love story of Army First Sgt. Charles Monroe King (Jordan) and journalist Dana Canedy (Adams). In the previous films Washington directed, he would tuck himself in the picture as a lead or a supporting character. With the presence of Jordan, even Washington can rest assured that no more star power is needed. Lately, mid-budget fare for adults has struggled at the cineplexes, but thanks to Jordan and Adams’ palpable chemistry, Sony could be in for a surprise this Christmas.
At first, the pairing between soldier and writer seems off. Charles gets his updates from cable news, and Dana is a print media lover who edits for The New York Times. He is a homebody, yet she loves living it up on the town. Their upfront difficulties highlight Jordan’s easy charm against Adams’ playful teasing. New on the scene, Chanté Adams has her coming out party in Journal for Jordan. After such a fine showing, she should have her choice of parts in the future. Much like Alana Haim’s recent debut in Licorice Pizza, Adams is a revelation that viewers can watch develop into a star right in front of their eyes.
The first hour that focuses on the burgeoning romance between Dana and Charles is pitch-perfect. The will-they-or-won’t-they tension present in most romantic dramas is missing because the trailer gives the game away. To keep things fresh, Washington jumps around the timeline. Washington risks confusing the audience by hopping before and after the engagement, but the choice ultimately works. The depiction of their years together is refreshingly devoid of the highs and crushing lows of an early relationship. A great deal of the film navigates the day-to-day minutiae that you rarely see take place onscreen. The dramatic exaggerations are not necessary. A Journal for Jordan relies on emotional beats, which Washington paces out effectively and allows his performers to emote naturally.
And there is a good deal of big emotional scenes. Before Charles and Dana can build their lives together, Charles must go back overseas. Dana grew up in a military family, but she struggles when Charles puts the service ahead of their family together. Charles also misses the birth of their son, Jordan, because he refused to leave Iraq until his unit went home first. A righteous gesture, for sure, but it’s also easy to see why Dana would be hurt. As a fiancée, she deserves a right to his time just as much as the military. Here is where Adams and Jordan commit to their performances. As two fully-realized adults, both have ambitions and values that they carried before they met each other. Neither budges, but they love each other enough to cross the bridge.
As a long courtship finally results in pregnancy, Dana gives Charles a journal to write about his life for their future son. Deployed in a combat zone, it’s never far from Charles’ mind that he might not live to see Jordan born. The pending father writes diligently, sharing his favourite meals, sports teams, and his first kiss. Whenever Charles boards a plane for Iraq, we know that Charles might not come back home to see his son, but he prepared Jordan for a life without him.
Journal for Jordan isn’t as challenging or thought-provoking as Washington’s Fences, though no one should expect that. August Wilson plays and romances have wildly different aims, especially with what they ask from audiences, so Washington adjusts accordingly. This project feels more spiritually aligned with Antwone Fisher with broader appeal. A love story between two charismatic, beautiful leads is an easy choice for cineplexes this holiday. Should your family not know what to pick, let Michael B. Jordan make your choice a little easier.