I was talking the other day about how I’m tired of the writer trope in films. Misunderstood genius who sees the forest for the trees and lives a tortured lifestyle that feeds his pen. That’s right, he. There are lot movies about writers, real life ones too, but most of them are about men under that same literary trope. This is why it was refreshing to see an upbeat comedy about a female writer and her family at TIFF.
In Jean of the Joneses, Jean (Taylour Paige) is a young and acclaimed Jamaican-American author who’s a bit down on her luck: she’s been dumped by her boyfriend, needs a place to stay, and her publishing company is waiting for her to write the next big thing. She reunites with her grandmother, mother, and aunts for Thanksgiving dinner when an old man shows up at the door and dies on her grandmother’s doorstep. Hilarity and sweet drama ensues.
It’s a treat when you have a pair of leading cast members who have remarkable chemistry. It’s quite a bigger treat when you have a whole cast that interacts so naturally on screen. Paige is charming in the role awkward and directionless Jean. There’s a awesome interplay here between her and Erica Ash who plays her aunt (sister figure and rival). They bicker, josh, and tease each other, but share in their outspokenness and quirkiness. Sherri Sheppard and Michelle Hurst are delightful as Jean’s mother and grandmother. It’s a family of women who have come into their own in a life after men, but they also have a treasure trove of secrets they hold back. And those secrets unravel quickly and adorably.
Director and writer Stella Meghie crafts a subtle look at a family of women, but one where things do not always have to go smoothly and lovingly. These are strong women portrayed here, living a comfortable life not regularly seen for black women in film. It’s refreshing and needed. Jean is a writer who’s considered the next Zadie Smith and in one part of the film she isn’t afraid to point out that as young black writers they are called upon to write the same stories. She isn’t sure what she wants to write, but she wants to stand out as a writer in her community, but representative of her experiences. These are interesting discussion topics and Meghie throws them out there in casual conversation they naturally would be. It’s quite fun to sit back and think, “Did she just say that?”
Some of the film feels a bit more ready for television than it does for more of a bigger film, but that’s not saying anything bad about it. Television is the new novel and I think that this movie would do well as a dramedy series featuring eclectic women who hold their own against their roles as mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers. Society expects a certain stereotype on film when it comes to women of color. The reality is so much more powerful than that.
Director and writer Stella Meghie crafts a subtle look at a family of women, but one where things do not always have to go smoothly and lovingly. These are strong women portrayed here, living a comfortable life not regularly seen for black women in film. It’s refreshing and needed.