28 Days of Black Movies: ‘Jean of the Joneses’ is a pleasantly awkward, bizarre ride through uncovering family secrets and unpacking intergenerational trauma

OPINION: Stella Meghie’s 2016 directorial debut is a fun, weird but ultimately enjoyable film even if I didn’t know what I was watching the first time around

"Jean of the Joneses" (Search Engine Films)

I happened upon Jean of the Joneses the way I discover lots of Black movies: skimming through Amazon Prime and hitting play on any movie where the cover art looks even remotely interesting and full of Black people. I cannot tell you how many truly terrible movies I’ve watched because of this; if I start watching a movie, there’s usually a very good chance I’m gonna see that thang through to its conclusion. 

Anywho, Jean of the Joneses was one of those pleasant surprises. I had no idea what to expect, and I found myself enjoying it, even if I really had no idea what I was watching for like the first hour-plus. It’s hard to describe but a lot of the movie is full of family banter and discussions and weird side convos and odd layers that are there to help you understand the family dynamics. 

Jean Jones, the lead character played by Taylour Paige, is a writer who just got kicked out by her boyfriend and goes back to her family in Brooklyn. While there on what looks to be Sunday dinner, a strange man comes to the door and has a heart attack at the doorstep. He dies. It turns out that this dead Black man is Jean’s grandfather, a man whom her grandmother told the rest of the family had left them to return to Jamaica; turns out, he’s been living in Harlem for the past 20 years. 

What happens next is equal parts traumatic and comedic. The family secrets: The grandma was mad at him so she lied to her three daughters—one of which is Jean’s mother—and said he left, denying them a father for decades. At the same time, Gordon (grandpa) also didn’t really seem to show up either. So it’s like a fragmented family, with lots of secrets, forced to confront what that means with Jean running point on making sure all the dirty laundry gets aired.

In the middle of this, Jean’s aunt Anne (the youngest of her aunts; they operate more like sisters) gets knocked up by a doctor at the hospital she works at; Jean’s mother, who resents her, has to deal with the trauma of losing the father she thought left her causing her to have issues with connection to her daughter; and her Aunt Janet, who is going through a divorce or will be soon, has found out that Gordon has ANOTHER daughter in Queens. Grandma, though? Grandma knew it all. She just decided that she was pissed at Gordon so she kept it all to herself and set in motion a family full of kids with daddy issues that they pass down to their kids. If the family Madrigal didn’t talk about Bruno, the family Jones really didn’t talk about Gordon. 

Here’s the thing about this movie, I wrote all that and tied it up (hopefully) nicely, but it was kind of hard to discern any of what was really happening. Jean is the main character and going through a breakup and a new romance with Ray (Mamadou Athie, the main character in the movie Corked and the Netflix series, Archive 81, among others). Jean is noncommital towards Ray and playing with his emotions because she’s struggling to deal with the death of a grandfather she didn’t know and never met, which is all of a sudden exposing her family. But because she’s so cool and weird, her convos are bonkers but compelling. So you don’t really know what the hell the point of the movie is; is it about her or the family? Is it about uncovering family secrets or a romantic comedy? It’s really both of those things but they operate in such a unique way that at first, I just felt like it was a plot-less movie that featured a lot of Black folks and a jazz soundtrack. Gordon was a jazz musician so the soundtrack works wonders, by the way. 

By the time it was over, though, I’d really enjoyed what I’d seen and liked the way it unfolded. It’s a Black slice-of-life movie; you see a family dealing with something and the ripple effects. It’s Black life. Full stop. I enjoyed that, and their family felt familiar; Jean is clearly a very smart, smart-ass who is a creative trying to find her way in life, and I hope she does. She found a way to help her family start the process of healing, and what family can’t use a little healing? It helps that there’s comedy involved, too, because Jean…is funny. 

Anywho, every now and again, I come across a Black movie that’s new to me that I wish more people had seen so I could talk to them about it. Jean of the Joneses is one of those movies that’s worth checking out if for nothing more than looking at the version of young Blackness so many of us are in our early 20s. She was an awkward Black girl in the same way Issa made cool; which is why it’s no surprise that Stella Meghie ends up writing and directing The Photograph in 2020; the films share many similarities in style and tone and use music. 

If you’re looking for a movie that is interesting, odd and enjoyable, add Jean of the Joneses to your life. 

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

TheGrio is now on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Please download theGrio mobile apps today!