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Love Jones [Movie Review]


I’ve dreamed of visiting Chicago for quite some time and hope to make it a reality this summer. From what I know about Chicago, it just seems like I would dig the setting and love the city. I’d previously seen bits and pieces of Love Jones but I don’t think I’d ever sat and watched the whole thing from beginning to end.

If you’re unfamiliar, Love Jones was one in a series of what’s considered the modern classics of the 1990s golden age of Black films. What was unique about the period is that there was a wide variety of films released by and about Black people. It was so diverse that there was a movie for just about every kind of Black person. I would define Love Jones as the quintessential hotep dirty backpacker film and I mean that in a good way.


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Show Notes

Love Jones tells the story of Darius Lovehall (Larenz Tate) and Nina Mosley (Nia Long) two twenty-somethings living in Chicago during the 1990s. Darius is a writer who also writes and shares poetry at a local poetry lounge that he frequents with his group of friends. Nina is a photographer’s assistant trying to chart her path to becoming an independent photographer. She’s house-sitting a dope apartment and hangs out with her one good girlfriend, Josie Nichols (Lisa Nicole Carson) who she tells everything. Larenz Tate was cute then and he’s mighty fine now but his poetry friend Eddie (Leonard Roberts) with all the hats was a snack. As always Nia Long is a cutie patootie.

Here’s the thing, I have generally hated poetry since I was in school for the same reason that I disliked Jane Austen. It just always seemed so dry, boring, and pretentious. Yet somehow I dig spoken word. Maybe the two aren’t that far apart but spoken word’s clever wordplay and rhythm are inline with some aspects of the hip hop I grew up listening to. So when Darius started with the poetry I was like “boy please” with this game masquerading as prose.

Yet, I still dug the interplay between Darius and Nina because while it’s your typical boy meets girl story it’s not your usual pick up lines and conversations. (Even if there is poetry.) Still reeling from the recent end of a serious relationship, Nina politely declines Darius’ advances at the poetry club. They later bump into each other at a record store but Nina turns him down again.

I was a kid when this movie came out but it was a bit nostalgic to see people visiting a record store and picking up items that were being held. It reminded me of stores like Sam’s Music Box on Flatbush, Beat Street in Downtown Brooklyn, and the huge Virgin Megastore in Times Square.

Darius was way too forward for taking Nina’s address from the record store and showing up at her apartment. It’s very stalkerish and she would have been well within her rights to call the cops. Imagine meeting a guy once at a club or lounge, you bump into him later, and he then shows up at your front door. And you know that you didn’t give him your phone number let alone your address. I would assume that he drives a big van with curtains over the windows and no seats in the back. It’s a movie from several years ago but I raised an eyebrow as this kind of stuff blurs the lines between romantic and inappropriate. It sends the wrong message that even if a woman says she’s uninterested, keep being pushy and show a lack of respect for boundaries in pursuit of your desires.

But I did appreciate that the creator of Love Jones didn’t let the incident slide by having Nina be impressed by this stunt. Instead, she questions Darius as to how he found out where she lives, calls him out on his lack of respect for boundaries, and sets expectations for moving forward. And it’s not the only time she does so in the film.

The dialogue between Darius and Nina is cool but I also enjoyed the witty banter between the groups of friends. The mood of Love Jones would be best described as a jazzy Black cool. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the original She’s Gotta Have It but this reminded me of the Netflix series. It doesn’t have a glossy appearance but rather a warm sensual vibe.

I like movies like this that weave landmarks and the culture of a location into the very fabric of the story to the point where it feels like another character. I haven’t been to Chicago as yet but it feels like what I’ve heard about the city. Not from the news or politicians but rather the regular everyday Black people who are from the city. For example, I didn’t even become aware of Chicago’s stepping scene until the early 2000s but it’s cool to see it here.

Quite often people and places are reduced to one type of story and Chicago has been a victim of this. So even when television and movies tell stories from Chicago they largely focus on crime, corruption, and other problems within the city. There’s certainly a place for that and those stories need to be told. But it’s also nice to see a young nicely dressed Black couple out on a date surrounded by several other nicely dressed couples. They might not have it all together with regards to their careers or relationships but they’re working on getting there.

Black people have a rough history spanning several centuries and into the present. And I certainly discuss that through Noire Histoir as should we all. But sometimes I want to watch something about Black people doing well or striving for better while not living in never-ending despair.

As is to be expected there’s relationship drama but Darius and Nina aren’t the ghetto stereotypes or bourgeois new Blacks that have become so commonplace in Black cinema and mainstream media. Sure, they’re not new to dating so there is some residual baggage from past relationships. But, Nina isn’t a struggling single mother and Darius isn’t trying to get and keep his life on track after serving a prison sentence. They’re different with regards to what we so often see portrayed as Black people and the Black experience in movies and on television. But they’re refreshingly normal like most of the Black people I know in real life.

The crazy thing is that Darius and Nina can joke and playfully tease each other but they’re unwilling to honestly communicate their feelings to each other. Nina is in a messy situation starting to date someone new while still feeling as though things are unresolved with her ex. This was the reason that she didn’t want to become involved with Darius. When her ex, Marvin (Khalil Kain), pops back up Nina feels like she has to deal with the situation and figure out if they should work things out or completely call it quits. She and Darius aren’t in a relationship but she feels doing the right thing means telling him the truth. She also sees it as an opportunity to test how much Darius is into their budding romance.

I feel for Darius. What is he supposed to say to her about wanting to feel things out with some other guy? Sure he can be honest and tell her he wants her to forget about the other guy and just stay with him. But then there’s a chance that she’d be carrying these unresolved feelings for this other person which will likely still cause issues in the development of their relationship. Not to mention, he has pride like everyone else and doesn’t want to appear more into Nina than she is into him.

Instead of them discussing their true feelings, her not wanting to go and him wanting her to stay, they both try to save face. The “thing” between them is not yet a relationship but it’s also not a one night stand. They could have spared themselves a lot of drama by honestly discussing where they saw things going. But then we wouldn’t have a movie.

Now as for the ex, Marvin, he is a jerk and I don’t get what Nina sees in him. Maybe he was different when they first started dating and that’s the person she fell in love with. But the Marvin we see when they reunite is not the business. If I’m not mistaken, I think they were engaged before their breakup. Marvin comes back and tells Nina that he misses her, wants to work things out, and this time it will be different. I don’t need to tell you how that worked out.

Unfortunately, the couple falls into a cycle of one-upmanship by adding even more people to their relationship problems. They pretty much expanded their love triangle to a pentagon. A lot of relationship issues could be avoided if people didn’t attempt to get over their pain from a failed relationship by getting involved with someone else. Darius’ friend Savon (Isaiah Washington) was on nonsense as well but spoke a word. Falling in love (or thinking you’re in love) is easy. Staying in love and maintaining a relationship is the hard part.

Darius’ frenemy Hollywood (Bill Bellamy) is another male character that I wasn’t digging at all. He struck me as a young dirty old man in training. I don’t think it’s cool to push up on someone a friend previously dated especially if they’ve been intimate. It violates all kinds of codes. I didn’t like him before he started trying to talk to Nina and I detested him by the time that farce ended. Though I don’t understand why Nina was even entertaining or hanging out with him.

Also, can we add driving a hearse as a personal vehicle to the list of weirdo mobiles? It should be on the list right below driving one of those church vans while not being involved with a church, youth camp, or having a bunch of kids.

Hollywood is messy. Why bring your friend’s ex-whatever to a party filled with friends? It’s uncomfortable for him and you’re using the woman to stroke your ego. To be quite honest, I thought Hollywood and Darius were friends so I was lost about what caused him to not just push up on Nina but to throw it back in Darius’ face. This was more than just being interested in someone a friend dated briefly but with whom the relationship went nowhere. Nina also deserves some of the blame as she was the one that ran off to New York to explore things with her ex and then came back and started entertaining Darius’ friend.

Hollywood seems to see himself as being a player and thus treats women as though they’re disposable so his treatment of Nina while wrong is not surprising. But he harbors quite a bit of animosity towards Darius. I feel like Hollywood might not be the Lothario he imagines himself to be. If he’s getting all these women as he claims, why go after this one particular woman that your friend dated? Ultimately, Hollywood is trash as both a friend and a love interest.

I like that when things are right between Darius and Nina, they’re right. The montage of sweet moments from their relationship and seeing love everywhere is cute. But then when things aren’t going well it’s the worst. Lots of back and forth, hot and cold. Lack of communication and too much pride leads to missed connections. For example, Darius finally summing up the nerve to see Nina before she leaves for New York but having taken so long to make a move that he misses her train. During their first separation, Darius tries to save face in front of Savon by downplaying his feelings for Nina. But, later in the film, he is human and vulnerable with Eddie. So often there’s this hypermasculinity even in movies that prevent men from being portrayed as fully formed people capable of and feeling emotions beyond anger.

Honestly, I didn’t like any of the poetry but I still dig the movie. The film has a French noir vibe from all the jazz and poetry. To be quite honest, I don’t think the story of Love Jones is very unique. It doesn’t stray very far from your typical romantic drama of boy meets girl, they fall in like, drama ensues, they break up, get back together, and fall in love. But what differs here is just how normal the characters are. Some of the situations are contrived but the characters react in the imperfectly human way that a lot of people might. This makes it easier to relate to and empathize with them.

Something else mundane but unique about Love Jones is that like many other Black films from the 90s it takes place in a Black world. I mean that in the sense that the focus is not on Black people trying to love, live, and survive in the mainstream world. Instead, its Black people immersed in a community of people much like themselves. There is one scene where Nina meets with a potential employer who is not digging her creative style. But aside from that, the focus is not on problems or struggles based on race or culture. Removing the issue of race allows the characters to just be people. They live lives that are completely normal but still uniquely immersed in the Black experience.

Love Jones wasn’t a huge success when it was first released but over time it’s become a cult classic. I didn’t remember much from when I watched the movie as a kid. Though I do remember liking the apartment that Nina was staying in. I wasn’t impressed by the poetry then and I still don’t care for it now. But rewatching the movie through the eyes of an adult I love the look it gives into Black life in Chicago. And although its several years old the story of this young Black couple still feels new and refreshing in comparison to some of the other stories that had been told up to that point and since then.

This is not a perfect film but I love it. Love Jones is one of those movies that you can watch every so often and still enjoy it just as much as you did the first time. It’s a love story with some emotional bumps and bruises along the way but it never gets vile or nasty. (For example, even during an uncomfortable moment, Darius still shows concern for Nina and tries to ensure she gets home safely.) This doesn’t need a sequel or spin-off but it’s still incredibly relevant and should serve as an inspiration for current filmmakers.)

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