'Jean of the Joneses': LAFF Review

Jean of the Joneses Still 1 H 2016
Courtesy of Film Independent
Spike Lee meets Whit Stillman in this accomplished debut.

Newcomer Taylour Paige shines in this dysfunctional-family comedy of manners.

Introducing both a fresh new voice and a fresh new face to independent filmmaking, Jean of the Joneses is a crisply urbane comedy from first-time writer-director Stella Meghie, boasting a sparkling lead performance by Taylour Paige.

Meghie’s assured debut, which entertainingly exposes the deeply buried secrets and lies within a multi-generational Jamaican-American family of indomitable women, proves as astutely observed as it is highly relatable.

It’s not at all surprising that the Toronto-born Meghie landed representation by CAA shortly after the film’s March premiere at SXSW—she’s a natural storyteller with an ear for literate yet spontaneous-sounding dialogue.

Paige, meanwhile, makes for another engaging find as the professionally and emotionally adrift Jean Jones, a blocked writer struggling to make good on her promising first novel while taking a “break” from her once-sturdy relationship with her boyfriend (Francois Arnaud).

Perhaps seeking sanctuary in the supposedly nurturing arms of her family wasn’t the best idea, given that her physician sister Anne (Erica Ash) has her own issues—she just discovered she’s pregnant with a fellow doctor’s child—while classy sister Janet (Gloria Reuben) is going through a very messy divorce.

Those challenges prove to be just the tip of the family iceberg when a man who drops dead on the doorstep of no-nonsense grandmother Daphne’s (Michelle Hurst) Harlem brownstone turns out to have been her long-lost grandfather, a revelation that rips the lid off all manner of long-held secrets and resentments.

Juggling the various storylines with the ease of a Robert Altman, Meghie, who took inspiration from her own female-centric Jamaican-Canadian family, garners some terrific performances from her talented ensemble which also includes Sherri Shepherd as Jean’s sympathetic mom and Mamoudo Athie as a bemused paramedic who tries to pick up Jean in the back of an ambulance.

But it’s Paige who shines brightest here, dispensing just the right, gently jaded mix of dry wit and affecting vulnerability.

Behind-the-scenes, the casually jazzy uptown vibe of Jean’s middle class milieu is nicely underscored by costume designer Avery Plewes’ inspired mixing and matching and a percolating, bluesy Robi Botos score.

Venue: LA Film Festival (Buzz)

Production company: Circle Blue Media

Cast: Taylour Paige, Sherri Shepherd, Gloria Reuben, Michelle Hurst, Erica Ash, Mamoudo Athie, Francois Arnaud.

Director: Stella Meghie

Screenwriter: Stella Meghie

Producers: Amos Adetuyi, Stella Meghie, Floyd Kane

Executive producers: Elizabeth Cullen, Sean Dwyer

Director of photography: Kris Belchevski

Production designer: Helen Kotsonis

Costume designer: Avery Plewes

Editor: Aren Hansen

Composer: Robi Botos

Casting director: Ashley Ingram

Venue: LA Film Festival (Buzz)

Sales: Cinetic

86 minutes