Something Mild

Bringing up ladybug: Tunde Adebimpe and Natalie Verbeke in Jump Tomorrow

Jump Tomorrow is one of those movies that beautifies and simplifies reality so that as you watch it you have the sensation of sinking slowly into a warm bath, comforted by the growing suspicion that maybe life is doable after all. Not just doable, in fact, but delicious and light. The movie is kind of like Vicodin, except you don't pass out and there's no Judy Garlandesque aftertaste. It's just a pleasure to watch--and then it's over.

British writer-director Joel Hopkins, making his feature debut, says he was tired of gun-crazy British indies. In a way, then, this unfashionably romantic comedy proves what brass balls he really has. But forget about guns: In the world of Jump Tomorrow, there aren't even cell phones. No SUVs, either--and very little in the way of Frappuccinos. I want to go to this world.

Here colors are saturated, as are emotions. Walls are blank--except for maybe a funky Sixties chaise-longue thing off to one side. Faces really pop--especially that of Tunde Adebimpe, who plays our hero, George. I'm pretty sure he was hired for his looks as much as anything: Apparently, Hopkins spotted Adebimpe on campus at NYU when he was casting the earlier, short version of Jump Tomorrow and knew immediately that he had found his leading man. Adebimpe was an animation student, but it turns out he's also a wonderful actor.

George is a shy cubicle worker who dresses as if he were perpetually interviewing for an insurance job in 1957. His parents are dead, and he's set to marry his Nigerian cousin in a passionless, semi-arranged union that he believes would have pleased his folks. Of course, shortly before the wedding, he meets a hellzapoppin' Latin supergirl, the Espanglish-speaking Alicia (Natalie Verbeke). She sees a ladybug on his neck and says it signifies luck in love. She renames him Jorge, and seems to take a really long time borrowing his pen. (Something's cookin' in the metaphor kitchen.)

Soon after, Jorge meets Gérard (Hippolyte Girardot), a Frenchman whose girlfriend has just dumped him. This guy is so lonely that he offers to drive George upstate to Niagara Falls for the wedding, even though he cries whenever weddings are mentioned. Alicia and her British boyfriend/professor (James Wilby) happen to be hitchhiking in the same direction. (It's implausible, yeah, but so what?) There's a visit to a tacky theme hotel, where Gérard takes a bubble bath in a giant champagne glass while planning George's strategy for stealing Alicia. That night, watching a Spanish soap opera, George has the first of several fantasies wherein he's a hot-blooded Latin amante boldly seducing his panting prey. (It's our only glimpse at George's inner life.)

Even aside from its foreigners-in-America theme, Jump Tomorrow owes a little to Jim Jarmusch. For one thing, its point isn't to tell a story so much as to dwell in a series of sweet, well-constructed scenes, thereby conveying a specific worldview without ever proclaiming much of anything. But the movie's world is more transparent and far more romantic than Jarmusch's. Hopkins believes that women do quite well without men, but that men (or straight ones, anyway) are basically lost without women. Since I agree wholeheartedly, I really dug the movie--especially the crucible/sleepover at the B&B of Alicia's mom (Patricia Mauceri), where each character reveals his or her true nature under the influence of food and music.

But unlike some Jarmusch films, Jump Tomorrow doesn't leave a lasting impact. That's partly because we rarely get inside any of the characters--and also because the film is a traditional romance at heart, and unchallenging by design. (Even the cultural stereotypes are predictable.) It's probably no coincidence that Gérard, who seems to be the director's alter ego, is a master at chocolate mousse. A fine mousse is an act of love, as Gérard might say. It's something to be labored over and admired--and then eaten fairly quickly.

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