Now on VOD, A newspaper for Jordan is notable for being Denzel Washington’s fourth directorial effort, and among them, the third BOATS (Based On A True Story) film. This is the story of real-life Pulitzer-winning journalist Dana Canedy, who wrote a memoir based on her late fiancée’s diary for their son in 2008. A Diary for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor. Chante Adams plays Canedy, the fiancé is Michael B. Jordan, and the story has all the ingredients for a good cry. Now let’s see if it charges or moves.
The essential: Flash: baby feet. Flash: dog tags. Flash: Hands on a man’s back – I think two people are having sex? Hard to say – like I said, “flash”. NEW YORK CITY, 2007. Dana fights to be a full-time reporter at the New York Times. and raising a toddler. She fights with her editor to stick to a story she’s cooking up and fends off an arrogant colleague who wants the byline when her personal life literally seeps into her professional life, via the breast milk stain on her blouse. She comes home and comforts the nanny and kisses little Jordan as he takes a nap and collapses on the floor and two seconds later the child wakes up crying and she drags her ass on the mat with weariness. We hear you, girl, we hear you. That night, she wakes up gasping from a dream in which a man’s shadowy profile hovers softly over her, whispering, then she opens her laptop and begins to write, presumably the book based on the diary which becomes this very film.
It’s now 1998. While visiting her parents in, I don’t know, somewhere outside of New York, she meets 1st Sergeant Charles Monroe King (Jordan). This is how he introduces himself to her standing in his parents’ living room, hanging up a painting he made for them. His father was his drill sergeant and now Charles is also a drill sergeant. He is going through a difficult divorce and his father is one of his pillars of support. Dana and Charles talk and go for a drive and set foot in his hotel pool and now it’s the late 2000s again and Dana’s little boy is looking at a picture of Sergeant Charles Monroe King, hovering at the above his stroller with red balloons behind him. Yes, it’s his dad.
Then the film begins to move towards the scene in which this photo is taken, except when it cuts to 2018 when Jordan (Jalon Christian) is 12 or 13 years old. He keeps jumping like that, and if he didn’t, he wouldn’t need to keep rolling out terrible dialogues like “it’s been three weeks” and “it’s been six months”, and for a minute , we appreciate the unconventional narrative but it isn’t long before we wish this thing just drove the fucking story straight down the road.
Anyway, in the late 90s Charles and Dana racked up what must have been ASTRONOMICAL long distance phone bills – hey, remember long distance phone bills? – as they have a long-distance relationship throughout their lives: his rewarding career as a journalist (Canedy won a Pulitzer in 2001, but the film does not look into it and does not mention it) and his military career , which has it here for a while and there for another while, then it’s 9/11, then it’s the mid-2000s, although I think the movie reverses the timeline of those two things. Anyway, in the mid-2000s, he finds out he’s going to be sent to Iraq, and she wants to have a baby, and he proposes, and they have the baby, and she buys him a newspaper so that he can write his story and share advice with the baby, and have they set a wedding date yet? And then it’s 2018 and a friend gives Dana a vibrator for her birthday, and when Jordan walks in the room, she says it’s a massager, which is technically true. It goes on, life, this life, these lives, but not in the linear timeline we’re used to, and ultimately the movie tries to make us cry.
What movies will this remind you of? : Newspaper is entirely consistent with the serious and direct tone of Washington’s other leadership efforts on BOATS, Anthony Fisher and The great debaters.
Performance to watch: Fruitvale Station, Creed and just mercy established Michael B. Jordan as the reigning king of seriousness, and so he’s perfectly suited for the role. But it’s a classic case of a storyline that doesn’t give him enough to do beyond standing and looking sullen and/or quietly smoking.
Memorable dialogue: Dana calls out Charles’ level of commitment to her and the military:
Charles: I love you.
Dana: No, you like your men. I’m just prettier.
Sex and skin: Brief topless lady in shadow during love scenes PG-13; lots of shirtless Michael B. Jordan.
Our opinion : A newspaper for Jordan isn’t a particularly good movie, but it still made me pretty sad and wet for the eyeballs. Does it count? I’m not sure that counts. The film’s final moments successfully inspire someone to secrete hot, salty cryjuice, but once our minds return, it becomes clear that the film has merely mechanically manipulated us with images of folded American flags, children in weeping and scarred veterans, things that only robots on the assembly line would find still.
Which isn’t to say that Washington is exploiting anything — the movie is well-meaning, serious-minded, and heartfelt because the day is long. It’s just stiff in tone and structurally convoluted, both to the detriment of our involvement in the characters’ inner lives. When the film isn’t trying to cover 20 years of Dana’s life, we have long, drawn-out stretches of stillness interrupted by the protagonists’ sober declarations of love or light-hearted arguments about the usual things in life that, in some films, are fascinating. their detail – detail that illuminates people’s distinctiveness, or plays chords that ring true in our own lives – but here is rendered superficial and tasteless.
There’s little humor here, or opportunities for us to get sucked into Dana and Charles’ moments of joy or tragedy. The interesting fodder remains unexplored: Dana has a potentially racial and patriarchal blockage at work that is simply brushed off; his issues of having a relationship with a drill sergeant like his father is a talking point for 30 seconds. Jordan doesn’t have much to do except stand and look stoic; we know very little about Charles beyond his love of the military, classic soul music, and training until he looks like an action figure. It weaves its way through the rote birth scene, the rote-roll-out-daddy-sees-his-child-for-the-first-time scene, the rote phone call scene that we know is coming and many more sentimental cliches, and it’s like watching a software update scroll across your screen, inevitable and too long, until it’s done.
Our call: TO JUMP. A newspaper for Jordan has a lot of talent behind and in front of the camera, but he never catches fire spectacularly.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Learn more about his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.
Flux A newspaper for Jordan