The title of the film is “A Journal for Jordan,” but like the book it is based on, the movie is really two journals, kept by both parents of a baby whose father would meet him only once before he was killed in Iraq. It is the story of an improbable romance between two very different people and the imperishable bond that they both wanted their son to understand.
New York Times reporter and editor Dana Canedy was pregnant when her fiancé, First Sgt. Charles Monroe King was deployed to Iraq. She gave him a journal and it became a solace for him, a safe place to connect with home at the end of the day. As he saw young men killed in action, he wrote more than 200 pages about what he had learned about life and about being a man, and about his dreams for his son. He covered everything from treating women with respect to not being ashamed to cry. “Crying can release a lot of pain and stress. It has nothing to do with your manhood.”
After King’s death, Canedy wrote a best-seller incorporating excerpts from the journal, to tell Jordan the story of his father and of their time together. Each chapter begins as a letter: “Dear Jordan.”
We first see Dana (Chanté Adams) at work, fiercely independent, angry at an editor who wants to add another reporter to her story and then annoyed when the colleague who is trying to be assigned to her story points out that her breast milk has leaked through to her blouse. She is still breast-feeding and it is past time to pump.
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Then we go back in time to her first meeting with Charles (Michael B. Jordan), in the living room of the house she grew up in, where he is hanging a picture he created as a gift for her father. She is immediately drawn to him and makes up a story about needing a ride to spend some time with him. They do not seem to have much in common. She is a high-strung, highly verbal woman who writes for a newspaper in New York City. He is a quiet man, divorced with a daughter, who gets his news from television and has never been to Manhattan. As the daughter of a career military man, she has seen Army wives sacrifice their careers so they can follow their husbands from one assignment to another. He is closer to her father than she is. The day after they meet, he shows up on the dot of o-nine-hundred as promised but she has overslept.
She is reluctant to get involved with him. But after she goes back to New York, they start having long phone calls. He comes to visit. She tells him he has to sleep on the couch and he does … at first.
Perhaps because of the timeline shifts, director Denzel Washington avoids fussy cinematic flourishes, though in one scene, as they talk on the phone, both lying down, we see their faces sideways, an odd distraction. But Washington wisely keeps the actors at the center of the story. Adams and Jordan have a warm, engaging connection on screen, and there is a surprising but welcome touch of humor as their romance develops.
As it moves toward the present day, we see Dana and her middle school-age son, the way her time with Charles shaped her as a mother, and the way she uses the journal to share Charles with the son he was writing to from half a world away. In a stirring conclusion, we see how those lessons have inspired Jordan’s own sense of dedication and honor.
“A Journal for Jordan” is a love story. It is about an unlikely romance, a far-away father, a single mother and about the way love continues to connect them even after loss. It wears its heart on its sleeve, unpretentious and sincere as a homemade valentine.