Monday, June 01, 2015

White Elephant Blogathon | Jump Tomorrow (2001)

For the past few years I've participated in the annual White Elephant Blogathon, where participants submit movies for other bloggers to watch and review. It's all random, so you have no idea who will get/have to review your submission or whose submission you'll have to review. It started out mostly as a way to make other people review horrible movies (which is really fun, I'm not gonna lie), but in the past couple of years there's been a push for participants not to just submit the most awful movie they can think of, but to also consider under-appreciated movies that may be legitimately good. That's the route I went this year and happily, that's the route taken by the person who submitted the film I was assigned.

I'd never even heard of Jump Tomorrow before the assignment showed up in my email inbox. I hoped that meant a pleasant treat, but I wasn't sure. And honestly, fifteen minutes into the film, I still wasn't positive how I was supposed to be taking it. It's obvious right away that Jump Tomorrow is a quirky, independent film, but as I started it I realized that that's no guarantee of quality. That's the thing about White Elephant. You have no idea if what you're getting is awesome or crap.

Jump Tomorrow is about a young man named George who is originally from Nigeria, but is now living in Buffalo, New York. He's known since childhood that he's supposed to marry his friend Sophie and the time has finally arrived. She's flying in from Nigeria to meet him and the two of them are supposed to drive to Niagara Falls for the wedding. Trouble is, George isn't at all excited about it. He even goes to pick her up at the airport on the wrong day. She arrived the day before and is already in Niagara waiting for him. George's uncle and aunt (who raised him) are furious, so he has to get up there as quickly as possible. Only more trouble arrives when George meets a cute woman named Alicia at the airport. She invites him to a party and he begins to have doubts about his commitment to Sophie.

Complicating matters further is another person George meets at the airport. As George was waiting to meet his future, Gerard was having his crushed. Gerard proposed to his girlfriend just as she was trying to board her plane, but she turned him down. Despondent, Gerard goes to the bathroom for a good cry where he meets George. It's totally awkward for poor George, but he sees an opportunity to take Gerard to Alicia's party, making George not feel so awkward about attending alone while also helping Gerard take his mind off things.

So it's at this point that I'm getting a little concerned. I've seen plenty of movies about people in arranged marriages having to escape those situations to be with the person they really want. I've seen plenty of movies about painfully shy people like George (though Tunde Adebimpe is instantly likeable in the role). I've seen plenty of movies about fun-loving, full-of-life women who draw troubled men out of their shells. And I've seen plenty of movies where the main character has a wacky, impulsive sidekick like Gerard. I know the tropes and spotted enough of them in the first act to make me wonder if maybe I'd been given a bad movie after all. But I kept watching.

And here's the thing. Jump Tomorrow never completely escapes the expectations of its genre. George learns that Alicia has a boyfriend, but he keeps fantasizing about her. When he also finds out that she and Nathan are hitchhiking to Canada where they too will get married, he takes Gerard up on his offer to drive George to Niagara, making sure of course that they take the same route that Alicia and Nathan are. This is all standard stuff. But the more I watched, the less I cared about predictable plot elements. Instead, I found myself falling deeply in love with the characters.

George is painful to watch at first. From his clenched-jaw expression to his rigid posture and unstylish suit, he's a study in stiffness and repression. Gerard is just the opposite: emotional and impetuous. But the more time I spent with them, the more dimensions they revealed to me. George loves telenovelas, for instance. He has passion; it's just buried deep, way down. But he envies people like Alicia and Gerard and the people on TV who are better able to express what they're feeling.

For Gerard's part, he knows that it's not always healthy to do the first thing that pops into his mind. So the movie isn't about these two men teaching each other to change their natures; it's about their encouraging each other to tap into something that's already there and move just a little bit away from the extremes where they've found themselves.

It's the same with Alicia. She's not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who's only purpose is to draw out George. That's really more Gerard's job. Alicia has her own problems. She's in a relationship with a man she clearly admires and respects, but she doesn't find any joy in him. That makes George an odd choice for her attention, since on the surface George is far more inhibited than Nathan. But Nathan's passions are selfish ones. He and Alicia are never going to be a team; it will always be what Nathan wants as Alicia tags along. With George... well, like I said, George is painful to watch. You can't help but want to draw him out. That this attracts Alicia to him doesn't make her a flat character; it makes her like everyone else in the movie. Heck, it makes her like me as I'm watching it.

I started the movie uneasy about what I was getting into, but ended it completely invested in the happiness of these three, very real-seeming people. All of them have crucial adjustments to make if they're going to find any kind of peace. They're all headed for things that are going to dramatically change their lives forever. George and Alicia have their weddings and Gerard is so focused on romantic love that he's in danger of destroying himself if he can't have it. There's a reason that the ultimate destination of the movie is Niagara Falls, a place as well knows for its suicides as for its honeymoons.

Like so much else about the movie, the parallels between marriage and death aren't new observations. But it does have something important to say, which is right there in the title. George gives Gerard some advice early on when Gerard is on a roof and feeling suicidal. It boils down to not resigning yourself to your fate today, but seeing what else life has in store for you first. George of course is confronted with his own advice when it comes to Sophia. Does he have to get married right now because that's what's expected? Or can he jump tomorrow? That's what the movie's about. And while it may not be unique or earth-shattering in its conclusions, it is absolutely beautiful and sweet in the way that it reaches them.

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