Denzel Washington directing? Michael B. Jordan starring? You bet I’m in on the new romantic drama “A Journal for Jordan”. The film is based on the 2008 memoir written by Dana Canedy about her fiancé, United States Army First Sergeant Charles Monroe King. It tells the true story of how the couple met and eventually fell in love. It also tells of Charles’ deployment during the Iraq War, while a pregnant Dana Was back home waiting to deliver their baby boy, Jordan.
Adapted by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Virgil Williams, “A Journal for Jordan” tells a story that you can’t help but admire. Its romantic angle is sweet and sincere while the inescapable sense of tragedy looms over the entire film. On screen, the movie is energized by the chemistry between stars Jordan and Chanté Adams. Behind the camera, Washington’s patient approach is both a blessing and a curse. It gives the movie’s central relationship room to breathe and take root. But it also drags things out longer than they need to go.
In a way “A Journal for Jordan” feels like a movie from another time. Most of today’s franchise-formed preferences have all the patience in the world for the latest big tent-pole blockbuster. But an old-fashioned straight-shooting melodrama (the kind audiences 30 years ago would gobble up no questions asked) is a hard sell these days. That’s one reason I wouldn’t be surprised if the film gets a mixed reception.
Another reason is the overall conventional feel of the story, specifically during the first half. Though sweet and genuine, watching the sprouting relationship between Dana and Charles, complete with its highs and lows, rarely gets out of first gear. Jordan and Adams add a romantic spark and Washington’s unrushed direction allows us time to get to know these characters. But outside of the lingering hand of fate waiting to be dealt, the story never generates much buzz. Washington seems to know this so he shakes things up a bit by moving back-and-forth across the timeline.
Adams gives an eye-opening performance playing Dana who we first meet as an ambitious and hard-working reporter for the New York Times. While visiting her parents for the weekend, she meets Charles for the first time. He’s a noble and gentlemanly soldier who has been in the army for 11 years. The two opposites attract and begin a long distance relationship that (eventually) blooms into a full-blown love story.
But as the world changes post 9/11, Charles is sent to Iraq adding an extra obstacle to their relationship. But Dana is convinced she’s ready to start a family so the two decide to have a baby. She gives Charles a journal to write to his on-the-way son Jordan while overseas. The journal becomes a key piece of the story once Charles is killed by an IED during a mission.
That may sound like a spoiler, but it’s a plot point the movie doesn’t try to hide. In fact, Washington uses it as the film’s emotional center as he traverses his timeline. It adds a tragic layer to the romance we see in the flashback sequences, and it’s the catalyst for how the later-set scenes play out.
When you put it all together it’s hard to knock what “A Journal for Jordan” is going for. The characters feel authentic and true. The true story of their relationship is both inspiring and heartbreaking. And Washington’s deliberate and unvarnished direction is the kind we rarely get these days.
Yet there’s something missing that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s a little too long and the story doesn’t feel particularly balanced. But there’s something else – something that doesn’t quite give the movie the gut-punch it needs. It tries to compensate with a really effective final scene. But it seems like there was so much more the movie could have done with this deeply moving story. “A Journal for Jordan” is now showing in theaters.