Sunday, July 19, 2020

Movie with Abe: Tijuana Jackson: Purpose over Prison

Tijuana Jackson: Purpose over Prison
Directed by Romany Malco
Released July 24, 2020

There are many films set in prison, and a good number of them feature instances of extreme violence and harrowing circumstances that find innocent people suffering tremendously after wrongful convictions whose damage can never be undone. There are also comedies that seek to extract the levity from such situations, dialing back the severity of the experience to hone in on the humor that can be found in misunderstanding or miscalculating how someone is perceived when they set out to have a new lease on life as a release is imminent and the possibilities for the future seem endless.

Rachel (Shannon Dang) is a college student trying to complete a ten-minute student film, and for her subject, she has chosen someone who seems to have an unusually optimist attitude and a plan for himself: Tijuana Jackson (Romany Malco). Jackson is determined to become a life coach and motivational speaker, and he’s ready to talk to – and bill – anyone willing to listen. As Rachel and her cameraman follow him around, his biggest hurdles are those closest to him with the least faith in his abilities: his mostly loving mother (Baadja-Lyne Odums), spiteful sister (Tami Roman), precocious nephew (Alkoya Brunson), and the parole officer, Cheryl (Regina Hall), who’s also his former classmate and crush.

The best way to describe Jackson is to liken him to the infamous protagonist of the American version of “The Office,” Michael Scott. He’s ambitious, well-meaning, and almost always misreads situations and says the wrong thing. He does also have good ideas, and if his life had gone differently and he had applied himself in the right way given the opportunity, he could have done well. Instead, he’s stuck in a cyclical trap, where his drive to succeed causes him to cut corners and put the limited freedom that he enjoys in jeopardy. The consequences don’t seem all that dire given the rapport he demonstrates with the other inmates and guards, but they’re also attuned to his antics and know how to stop him from getting too excited about sharing his thoughts with those around him.

Malco, best known for his supporting roles on shows like “Weeds” and “A Million Little Things,” makes his feature debut as writer and director, crafting a story about the values that really matter with himself as its star. He’s undeniably charismatic, and the strongest move this film makes is pairing him with Hall, who has shown her comedic chops in “Black Monday.” Her scenes, along with those featuring the talented Brunson, enhance a film that’s not overly imaginative but still manages to find a few laughs in its portrayal of a man who might be described by some as a con artist and by others as a nice guy who’s never really been in control of his life.


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