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  Love Jones Fooled Around And Fell In Love
Year: 1997
Director: Theodore Witcher
Stars: Larenz Tate, Nia Long, Isaiah Washington, Lisa Nicole Carson, Bill Bellamy, Leonard Roberts, Bernardette Speakes, Khalil Kain, Cerall Duncan, David Nisbet, Simon James, Oona Hart, Jacqueline Fleming, Marie-Francoise Theodore, Reginald Gibson
Genre: RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Darius Lovehall (Larenz Tate) is a promising poet in Chicago who spends his evenings with his friends, attending poetry clubs and performing as he hopes for that big break, such as a book deal. On one of those evenings, he happens to notice an attractive woman he has never noticed before, but for some reason his usual confidence lets him down and she instigates the conversation, which ends when he spills her wine. She is photographer Nina Mosley (Nia Long) and she was out for a distraction from her fiance, or now ex-fiance, since he has upped and left her to go to New York City, but she doesn’t expect what happens next...

Love Jones in 1997 felt like a breath of fresh air, if only anybody had gone to see it. It came and went in theatres pretty quickly, but those who saw it were impressed with its depiction of African American urban living that unlike almost every other movie from the nineties featuring a black cast, did not include one single gun. This was no crime thriller, it was a serious romantic drama, careful to build up a collection of characters that may not have been familiar to the big screen in that decade, but felt like real people with real problems rather than actually being social problems themselves for whom the police were involved.

There are no cops in this either, though some might think there might be early on when you see the behaviour Darius uses to insert himself into Nina's life. It was to be the only film directed by Theodore Witcher, who despite this promising debut was unable to make much progress in directing anything else, perhaps an indication that no matter how much quality people discerned in your debut work, when the profits were not there the money men just aren't interested. Nevertheless, Love Jones quickly picked up a cult following on home video, and they form the basis of the film's fans to this very day: there's plenty of affection for it.

But if you were not there in the nineties, or if this one passed you by, you may wonder what the fuss was all about. As mentioned, Darius's pursuit of Nina is more than a little dodgy, as not only does he try to seduce her from the stage with a sexually explicit poem dedicated to her, and is surprised when this embarrasses her for some reason, but he approaches her in a record store the next day, gets a polite brush-off (she's still mulling over her ex) but nevertheless he steals her address from a cheque she gave the shopkeeper. When he shows up at her door, she looks worried, as well she might, but this is the movie's idea of an extended meet-cute and we're supposed to accept it as a foundation of the relationship that proceeds.

That could be too much of a stretch for some audience members, but once we had that uneasiness out of the way, Love Jones settled into its groove where Darius and Nina initially enjoy each other's company, but go on to hit troubles along the path of true love - it ne'er did run smooth. In truth, you don't see many films like this in the twenty-first century either, but you assuredly see plenty of television like it, whether starring black characters or not, so perhaps Witcher was predicting the way at least some entertainment drama would develop. Unfortunately, thanks to that journey the culture went on, this film no longer comes across as quite as refreshing as it did, and while at the time Tate was astounding some that he was the same guy as the psychopath from Menace II Society and Long was the girl from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, that surprise element has dissipated. But as an example of a film that was unusually different when it really should not have been, it retains worth. Music by Darryl Jones.

[The Criterion Collection release this on Blu-ray with these special features:

New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director Theodore Witcher, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
New audio commentary featuring Witcher
New interview with Witcher and film scholar Racquel J. Gates
New interview with music scholars Mark Anthony Neal and Shana L. Redmond on the soundtrack
Panel discussion featuring Witcher and members of the cast and crew
Featurette
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: An essay by critic Danielle Amir Jackson.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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