'A Journal for Jordan' review: Denzel-directed romance sweet but stiff

Michael B. Jordan and Chanté Adams star in love story based on true life events.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

In "A Journal for Jordan," director Denzel Washington fashions a romance so old-fashioned and teenage-crush giddy that it features a scene where the two main characters do the old "no, you hang up" bit from opposite ends of the phone line. That it works, that you can feel that these two truly do not want to get off the phone with each other, is a testament to Washington is able to build, schmaltzy though it may be. 

Michael B. Jordan and Chanté Adams in "A Journal for Jordan."

But that dizzying feeling of new romance can't carry "A Journal for Jordan" over its rockier patches. It's dotted with inconsistencies and generically staged, with a title device that barely feels weighty enough of such distinction. It's a good thing the lead actors have strong chemistry together, otherwise there would be even bigger problems.

Those actors are Michael B. Jordan and Detroit native Chanté Adams, who star as Charles King and Dana Canedy. Charles is a strict military man and they meet at a barbecue at the house of Dana's father (Robert Wisdom), who was once Charles' commanding officer. 

Sparks fly immediately between the two. Charles is an old-school gentleman who walks on the outside of the sidewalk and peppers his responses to Dana with "yes, ma'am," and in his spare time he's an artist who dabbles in Pointillism. (He's also a super-shredded beefcake and his physique is fawned over by the camera like he's a statue carved out of marble.) 

But their relationship is mostly long distance, as Charles is on duty and Dana is in New York, where she's a reporter at the New York Times. When they're together they're magic, when they're apart he's often unreachable and she's supported by her group of cookie cutter friends, who feel like they were ordered from a catalog of Rom-Com Side Characters. 

As a pure romance, "A Journal for Jordan" is sweet and lighthearted, a normal, down-the-middle love story that works almost because of its conventions. But tragedy lingers — it's no secret that Charles meets his end, or that he leaves behind a journal for their child, Jordan (Jalon Christian), as his legacy — and the script by Virgil Williams (based on Canedy's 2008 memoir "A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor") falls hard when the charm of its lead actors isn't there to prop it up. 

There are other issues — Charles' ex-wife and daughter are mentioned and then just as quickly forgotten, an awkward bit with a gifted vibrator plays like a "Sex and the City" scene left on the cutting room floor, a thread about a "viral e-mail" at the close of the film is introduced and never explained — that detract from the highs of the light, breezy vibe Washington creates between his two leads. "A Journal for Jordan" is sentimental and well-intentioned, but it just can't quite pull things together in the end. 



'A Journal for Jordan'


Rated PG-13: for some sexual content, partial nudity, drug use and language

Running time: 131 minutes

In theaters