I first encountered love jones through Tumblr sometime in the early 2010s. The microblogging platform was known for its emphasis on aesthetic, specifically for film stills that would go semi-viral due to their distinctive colour grading or artistic set designs. If your films were pleasing to the eye, you can bet that they would be on Tumblr (or Pinterest), and love jones easilyfit the bill. Whenever I would follow Black Tumblr users, like clockwork, I would instantly come across a still of the film on my feed. Images or GIFs featuring Darius Lovehall (Tate Lorenz) and Nina Mosley (Nia Long) strolling by the Buckingham Fountain wearing their signature black trench and leather jackets told a story of a couple that was young, Black and, most importantly, deeply in love with one another. Over the years, I continued to see stills of love jones on social media platforms. I’d remind myself to watch it, only to forget until the next time it popped up on my feed as a growing number of people were enchanted by the film.
Premiering at Sundance and then nationally in 1997, love jones didn’t fare well financially, rendering it a commercial failure in comparison to other romantic comedies that premiered that year, such as My Best Friends Wedding, Picture Perfect and Fools Rush In. However, over the past two decades, the film has retained its critical acclaim and cult status. In an interview with Roger Ebert, director Theodore Witcher remarks, “If it’s a cult classic, I guess it was a cult classic for a long time, and then the cult got bigger.”
My viewing experience with love jones would only occur in February of this year when a friend and I challenged ourselves to spend the month watching romance movies beyond the run-of-the-mill classics like When Harry Met Sally. Two weeks in, and I found myself up at 2 am pressing play on the film I had promised myself to watch a decade prior, and in the same way one becomes infatuated with the feeling of love, I became infatuated with love jones.
love jones is Witcher’s debut film, but it does not look or feel like a debut. It’s slick and sophisticated, but at the same time youthful and awkward, much like falling in love in your 20s can be. Beyond that, it’s clear that Witcher is self-assured in the story he’s telling and who it’s there to represent. Black creativity and art remain at the centre of love jones, from the opening black-and-white snapshots of Chicago that later serve as Nina’s portfolio and the smoky yet seductive Jazz cafe where our leads meet and eventually rekindle amongst musicians, poets and creatives.
In addition to its suave visuals and detailed setting, love jones’ impeccable script is what kept me entranced whilst watching the film. Writing a romantic drama that feels equally impassioned as it is down to earth can be difficult to accomplish. Luckily for Witcher, it came easy as the film was based on his experiences dating in Chicago and the “games that were played.”
When interviewed by the LA Times for the film’s 20th anniversary in 2017 , Witcher states that part of the reason the film has retained a following comes down to its authenticity, “[When] people look at it and go, “That feels like something I have lived.” That is the key, and that’s why I think for many people, the movie holds up.”
And he’s right. In witnessing Darius and Nina’s struggle to reveal their feelings for each other, the film presents a simple yet familiar dynamic that’s more dramatically gripping than any of the rom-coms that made more at the box office than love jones did at the time. There’s something distinctly modern about the way the characters conduct themselves when it comes to love and all its intricate nuances. In the film, Darius and Nina describe their relationship as ‘just kickin’ it’ — today, we’d call what they had a ‘situationship’. Perhaps this demonstrates that while tides and trends shift, the nature of romance offers up the same complications to us as it did to those who were young and in love 26 years ago.
love jones is a love letter to Black creatives, Black romance and Black cinema. It remains Witcher’s only film to date, and whilst having more of his work in the world would be incredible, the miraculous fact that we were given love jones is more than enough for me.