Movie Review: Sentimental romance “A Journal for Jordan” has an unfinished feel

“A Journal for Jordan” is a sweet, sad holiday weeper about a soldier who kept a diary filled with life lessons for his newborn son, just in case “the worst” happened. Which it did while First Sgt. Charles King was serving in Iraq.

It’s a glossy, sentimental star vehicle for Michael B. Jordan and another feather in the cap of Chanté Adams (“Bad Hair, “The Photograph”) who plays the single mom left behind to raise that son and pass that journal on to him when he was old enough to understand.

But it’s an ungainly film that loses focus time and again, drifting off to indulge its stars with extraneous scenes and badly-handled or simply unnecessary story threads. That makes it play longer than its two hour and 11 minute runtime, and makes it that rarest of movie “unicorns” — a misstep by director Denzel Washington.

Whatever the messaging and emphasis of the memoir it’s based on, the movie reaching theaters needed a serious re-edit.

Adams plays Dana Canedy, a hard-driving New York Times reporter and Army brat with “daddy issues” who nevertheless lets Daddy (Robert Wisdom) put a handsome, courtly and honorable “tanker” that he trained in her path, plainly match-making for the 30ish, sophisticated Big City Dana.

First Sgt. King always introduces himself that way, always says “ma’am,” and is blunt about picking the Army as a career. But he’s into art, painting in the style of his French favorites — the pointillism of Georges Seurat, the impressionism of Claude Monet.

Dana has a New York apartment, a New York career and that hard-won New York sophistication, and Adams lets us see both a ravenous attraction to this new hunk her dad’s introduced her to and her reluctance to fall for someone so potentially like her father.

“Journal for Jordan” may hang on the hook of “fallen father writes timeless advice to his son” hook, but it’s about “How Dana Canedy Fell for Charles Monroe King” — from set-ups (Dad even provides her “excuse” for asking for a ride) to slow-moving courtship to love, sex and a baby.

The script and the star let us see Charles as ramrod straight, chivalrous and “corny,” a man of few words “unless I’ve got something to say,” unpolished in his ratty “grandpa” tennis shows and ignorance of what the phrase “off Broadway” means, but the sort of straight arrow father figure who passes on “live by your convictions” because that’s the way he lived.

He serves because he wanted “the discipline” the Army had to offer his life, and because he’s a real “patriot.” “I love my country.”

It’s worth noting how startling that line plays here, when that word has been so devalued by Americans unfit to claim it as a label.

The film frames their love story as a flashback, drifting through years of their relationship as seen by Dana in the years after his passing when she’s raising Jordan, eventually played by Jalon Christian as a teen.

But it’s that cumbersome flashbacks/flashforwards and flash around the edges structure that lets “A Journal for Jordan” down.

With every lingering tracking shot down up Adams’ curves or Jordan’s shirtless six-pack during “patient” scenes of banal phone conversations, every “over-sharing” chat between Dana and her “variety-pack casting” co-workers (Susan Pourfar plays her best Times friend), every jump backwards and forwards in time, delaying what the overlong prologue has told us is coming, “Journal” loses the thread.

That lost thread is “What’s IN that Journal that’s important enough to pass along to my boy.”

It finishes so well, with such a grand lump-in-the-throat scene, that one might be fooled into thinking it’s a better movie than it is. Then you remember there should have been moments like this all along, that saving it for “a surprise” that is no surprise at all, is a miscalculation, “the Journal” should have been the point.

Long before we get to that break-out-your-hankies moment, it has to hit even the most enthusiastic fan that “was this scene/exchange/overlong shot really necessary?” Washington squanders some of the viewer’s good will and attention with a lot of extraneous moments and even entire scenes.

It’s tempting to suggest “He should’ve done this by the book,” but it’s most likely that the memoir itself, full of the messiness and minutia of real life, created this problem. Director Washington and screenwriter Virgil Williams (“Mudbound” was similarly scattered) failed to correct it.

Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content, partial nudity, drug use and language

Cast: Chanté Adams, Michael B. Jordan, Jalon Christian, Robert Wisdom and
Susan Pourfar

Credits: Directed by Denzel Washington, scripted by Virgil Williams, based on Dana Canedy’s memoir. A Sony/Columbia release (Christmas Day).

Running time: 2:11

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.