The attraction of 'love jones'

March 14, 1997|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

"love jones" will come as a revelation to those who think that black films are only about guns, crack and rage.

It's about love, poetry and sex. And white wine, imported beer, really nice houses.

The movie examines a relationship in hip urban culture, among writers and photographers and academics and it feels so fresh and authentic you hardly notice the formal structure underneath and only pay attention to it when the young writer-director Theodore Witcher spins it out a bit too long.

It's boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl; then it's boy meets girl again, boy loses girl again, and boy gets girl again. So far so good. But the movie somewhat loses its steam on the last crank of the old formula wheel: boy meets girl for the third time, boy loses girl for the third time, boy gets girl for the *%$#! third &# time.

The principals, Nia Long (of "Friday") and Larenz Tate ("Menace 2 Society"; "Dead Presidents"), meet in a Windy City bar with poetry readings. He's a poet and novelist, she's a photographer's assistant. He has a contract (as in book); she has a portfolio. Each wants something better; each also wants the other. But ...

The rules. The movie is in some sense an examination of the rules as they apply to African-American courtship and it discovers that they are no different here than anywhere: Don't seem too eager. Don't get hurt. Don't call him. Don't hector her. Be cool. Don't be possessive. But don't be blase, either. Pay attention but don't dominate. Be funny, but not crude. Don't expect sex on the first date, but don't get crazy if you get it.

Both Darius (Tate) and Nina (Long) are veterans of this scene, and both have seen relationships founder under the dead weight of those 10-pound mandates. Darius, who hangs with poets and academics, sees Nina at the bar and improvises a poem for her. She is embarrassed but also secretly pleased, but also wary. (Witcher is good at finding ways to convey the simultaneous multiplicity of emotion serious relationships stir.)

They engage, they disengage, they do it, they get angry and don't do it. He's eager, she's shy. He's jealous, she's possessive. Then he's possessive and she's jealous. Old boy- and girlfriends flit through the annoying periphery. Their careers intrude. They prosper, they fail. Life is pretty much its own self.

Nothing of much surprise happens and nearly everybody will feel twinges of the familiar. It's very specific, but also universal in the gentle way it watches two people who are attracted to each other, and what they do about it.

'love jones'

Starring Larenz Tate, Nia Long

Directed by Theodore Witcher

Released by New Line

Rated R (profanity and sex)

Sun score:***

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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