I am sort of a romantic.
Not like a “one day my prince will come” sappy type of romantic, but more of the “you’re the perfect verse over a tight beat” variety. I love old, classic movies like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” or “Bringing up Baby” with the feisty, hard shell heroine who eventually melts into the arms of the man she loves in the end. I also love the bevy of Black romantic comedies and dramas that erupted on the scene between the late 90s and mid new millennium: “Love and Basketball,” “Best Man,” “Hav Plenty,” “Brown Sugar” (one of my all time favorites), and of course the movie that many feel like started the trend – “Love Jones.”
Love Jones, the now “classic” movie, starred a young Larenz Tate as ‘Darius’ an up and coming poet and writer and an equally youthful Nia Long as ‘Nina’ a freelance photographer. The story line revolves around the two meeting and Darius immediately feeling Nina. After a hard press, Darius gets Nina to agree to go out on a date – which was actually to a friend’s house to hang out and then to a night club for some late night dancing. The date ends with them hooking up back at her place and so begins their tumultuous love affair. Really, I’m so sure most people reading my blog have likely seen Love Jones and if you haven’t – get on that. I watched the movie in its entirety tonight for the first time in years. After talking to a friend who suggested that I “act more like Nina” and I’ll find a man I decided to que it up on Netflix when I realized that even though I quote from it often enough – I couldn’t quite remember the finite details of the movie and I needed to understand what he was talking about.
Now that I have, I must say, he’s bugging.
Love Jones was released in March 1997 meaning it’s coming up on its 15th anniversary. It also means that when I went to see it I was sitting in the movie theater with my soon-to-be “baby daddy” pregnant unbeknownst to us both. The funny thing about that is what I remember most about seeing this movie is the moment when Nina tells her ex-fiance, after going back to him yet again, that she doesn’t know why she came back. He responds to her by saying, “after all of these years you don’t know?” and Nina comes back with the line that I know gut-punched me and my boyfriend (at the time of seven years): “all we have is all of these years…and that’s not enough.” Ooooh…intense I thought. I was 23 years old. Grown, right? Hardly.
I watched this movie tonight, fourteen years later with far more mother wit and tons less baggage – and quite frankly Nina made me cringe. I kept watching and wanting her to make different decisions. Mature decisions. Grown up decisions. But she was not a grown up and maybe that was the point. This was after all a love story about twenty-somethings for twenty-somethings. However, that being a fact didn’t stop me from dismantling my former heroine and digging into some of her more questionable behavior. And what the heck, you’ve been reading this far so clearly you have some free time on your hands…so here we go:
My first eyebrow raiser was her reaction to the poem Darius recited for her in the opening scene. You all know it. It has the line that we quote the most, “Who am I? They call me brother to the night. I’m the blues in your left thigh, trying to become the funk in your right…” Whaaat?? That line is still fly. You’ll can’t front. It’s just sexy. Nina, who is clearly turned on a lil’ bit, confronts Darius outside of the club with an attitude claiming to be embarrassed. Um, really? By what? Who knows that you are Nina? Who knows that he was even thinking about you? That could have been a sweet, sexy, little moment that just the two of them shared. A grown woman would have just walked past him leaving the club and flashed a knowing smile. If she said anything it would have been “thank you” whispered in his ear which would have left the circle of friends surrounding him wondering what was going on. Or if she were truly offended she would have kept it moving. The false modesty of the moment is dumb. And then she writes write ‘love’ on his hand? He don’t love you sis – he doesn’t even know you. He ain’t even the “funk in your right” yet…just trying to get there.
The next two things that raised my ire were the whole playing hard to get thing in the record store and then letting a TOTAL STRANGER into your home. Who does that? Not in 1997 or 1987 (maybe ’77) but really, you don’t know this cat and you let him come in because he brought you a cd? Ever heard of stranger danger? And what happened to all of that coy ish? Seriously, I know we make some really silly, would-be-life-threatening decisions in our twenties, but come on. The more mature thing would have been to accept the cd at the door and then allow him to CALL her since, as she stated, she knew he had her phone number.
I’ll reserve judgment about her giving in to their chemistry after their first date…because well..there is no age or wisdom attached to that particular type of decision. I’m just saying. Move on.
Skipping ahead a bit, I have to say, I was cringing from the inside out when she listened to her stupid friend (who I will get to later) and decided to play games about going to New York to reunite with her ex. “Okay, okay I got it!” her friend says all giddy as she unveils this brilliant plan for her to surmise if Darius was worth staying for or not. Grrr.
She then puts this plan into place after sex one evening. Now, I have to say, full disclosure: I know some sisters my age who would do this today. Game playing very clearly has NO AGE LIMIT – but then again neither does maturity. In this case Nina tells Darius that she is going to NY to check on some opportunities and to see her ex who she “was close to once.” What she wants is for him to come with “Nina, you know we been kicking it for a minute now, you know, meeting up, screwing, laughing, loving, having a good time and I’m feeling you for real – like more than a booty call, but like my girl, you know. Stay Nina. Please stay. I’ll make sure you don’t regret it.” What he does is basically say, “that’s cool, we just kicking it anyway right? Do you.” What did she expect? There are no parameters around their relationship – no definition at all – which was working for them up until then, but it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t falling for her. My friend’s mother always says “play with a puppy and it’ll lick your mouth.” Yeah, it’s nasty, but it’s true. You get out what you put in. You lead with games – you end with games, period. That scene was a moment for her to say what she meant something like: “I’m trying to figure this out and trying to figure us out too – I’m feeling you for real and I think you are on the same page, let’s talk this through.” Or whatever. Something. And she gets an extra gas face here for not knowing when to get out and stay out. What are you going to NY for in the first place?
While I’m giving out the gas face let me insert my PSA at this point in time about having good girlfriends. Nina’s girlfriend was a fool. Most of us know when we are conjuring up foolishness in our heads. It usually starts late at night while staring at a facebook page or reading through some old text messages. Our brains start thinking of all types of theories about why he this or why doesn’t that. There is usually nothing wrong with that if you can talk yourself off of the ledge but when you have girls who co-sign, or worst yet ENCOURAGE your tomfoolery – you are shooting bad. Ladies, there has to come a point in your life when you look at your home girls and do some self evaluation and then start moving away from the toxic broads (“let’s key his car!”) and closer to the edifying sisters (“let’s focus on the positives that came out of the relationship.”) This could be an entire other post so I digress.
So, this brings me to the coup-de-gråce. The part of the film that made me want to find this imaginary character Nina just so I could make myself her honorary bestie and then snatch her up by her collar. This young lady comes back from NY wanting to find Darius, but doesn’t call him. I actually get that. She left on funky terms and you don’t really know where his head is at. Okay. But then she sees him through the window walking down the street with a chic and decides to GO ON A DATE WITH HIS BOY! Whoa. What??
In the same vein that many of us women hold the “you can’t date a friend’s ex” rule – clearly, there is a “you can’t date your ex’s man rule” particularly when you and said ex are just weeks/months fresh off of a break up. And, furthermore, dating in the same circle so soon is just asking for all sorts of drama. DRAMA. The kryptonite of grown women. We run from it, loathe it. But not Nina. She runs head-first into the muck. But, as movies would have it, things work out and the two are soon reunited and it feels so good. When suddenly…
More drama. There is a question about Darius and the girl Nina saw him with at the book store. Now, I remember having a discussion about this with girlfriends like, “I wish my man would get up at such and such a time to answer the phone and talk to an ex in the other room – aw, hell no!” And I am NOT saying that I don’t still feel that way. However, after her track record of shady-ness and his track record of not lying to her – why not trust him? And, if she didn’t trust him – for whatever her reasons – why stay? From what we can tell in the movie, she sticks around being a miserable person for a while after the phone call from the ex and continuously badgers Darius about the girl after he has explained the situation over and over. No matter what he says she remains suspicious. In the black church they’d say it sounds like she herself was “convicted” by her own behavior. Ummm hmmm. It takes some time – believe me. But, eventually a mature women get to the place where she has no interest in snooping in her man’s phone, or going through his emails or checking his text messages or any sort of raging jealous behavior – especially when you know you are not going to leave. What’s done in the dark will come to the light. It always does in one way or another. At some point a woman has got to realize that if she was in a real relationship she wouldn’t be going through all of those changes AND that if you’re searching for clues you likely already know the answer. If I have to do all of that to “hold my relationship together” guess what? It’s time to push on. I’m almost forty, but I very, very clearly remember 20 and 24 and 28 and (eh-em) 32. So this isn’t judgment. In fact it’s almost cathartic for me. I didn’t see any flaws (except the dating the friend thing) in Nina the first time I saw the movie. Even in dating the friend I felt like he “set her up.” It is sort of interesting to me that I had such a visceral reaction to watching that character on the screen this time around. I do still think conceptually, the movie was dead on. Like one of the characters said, “once that love jones get a hold of you…ain’t nothing you can do.” I can fully attest to that, but I have come to a place in my life where the “jones” is just what makes everything else I have to offer that much more interesting.