Directed by: Denzel Washington
Premise: Based on the memoir by Dana Canedy and Charles King. A soldier (Michael B. Jordan) expecting his first child writes a journal to his unborn son. After he is killed, the boy’s mother (Chanté Adams) shares the journal with her son.
What Works: A Journal for Jordan consists of two stories. The first is a romance between Charles King and Dana Canedy, played by Michael B. Jordan and Chanté Adams. Charles is a soldier with practical working-class sensibilities and Dana is a New York Times reporter with more metropolitan tastes. But their differences complement one another and Jordan and Adams have a visceral romantic chemistry that makes them a likeable onscreen couple. Love stories need an obstacle keeping the lovers apart and Charles’ military career provides that. The couple must cope with the strain of distance and Charles is later killed in Iraq. That leads to the second story, which is about a boy piecing together his father’s identity. The combination of Dana’s recollections and Charles’ journal entries substitutes for a paternal presence and their son, played by Jalon Christian, adopts his father’s advice. Both the romance and the father-son story are about love in its different forms and A Journal for Jordan has a very pleasant vibe. Despite some dramatic turns in the story, the filmmakers never get unnecessarily sentimental and the story earns its tearjerker moments. The narrative is organized effectively with the film crosscutting between the two stories. We know early on that Charles is gone and the filmmakers use that knowledge to infuse the romance with some dread as we wait for the inevitable. The father and son’s stories to reflect one another and the filmmakers use some effective scene transitions.
What Doesn’t: Charles comes off as nearly a saint. His only faults are wearing dirty shoes and standing up his girlfriend because he’s accompanying one of his men while the soldier’s wife suffers compilations during childbirth. He doesn’t lose his temper or make mistakes or have any other character flaws. His advice to his son is inarguable because of its simplicity and Charles’s journal entries are relentlessly positive and uplifting. Strangely omitted from A Journal for Jordan is Charles’ other family. His is divorced and has a daughter but we never see her nor does the film acknowledge Charles’ relationship with his ex-wife. Charles’ characterization is so pure and one-sided that it denies him complexity. This gives the son and the movie an unblemished and unrealistic view of adulthood instead of the complexity that comes from recognizing the fallibly of our parents.
Bottom Line: A Journal for Jordan is an uplifting feel-good movie. It tends to omit anything that might complicate the portrait of Charles King but the film succeeds as a love story and in advancing a model of positive masculinity.
Episode: #885 (January 2, 2022)