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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison is a comedy about a man (Romany Malco) who tries to start a motivational speaking business after he's released from prison. The movie's tone is light and sweet: Jackson's family often criticizes him harshly, yet they're there for him when the chips are down. His relationship with his school-age nephew is particularly nice. Jackson hopes to be a role model for Lil Eric (Alkoya Brunson) and spends lots of time hanging out with him, always telling his nephew how much he cares for him and wants to support him. Themes of teamwork and perseverance are clear, particularly in that relationship and the one between Jackson and his parole officer/ex-girlfriend, Cheryl (Regina Hall). Most of the movie's iffy content is in its crude jokes, including an extremely vulgar anecdote about sexual assault in prison that involves defecation and oral sex, and gibes about body parts (a woman is said to have a "most vicious p---y") and sex (Jackson asks a woman if she "f--ks Black guys"). In a more serious moment, Jackson graphically describes how he damaged his uncle's larynx after the uncle tried to sexually molest Jackson in his sleep. Men are shown nude in a nonsexual context (showering in prison); their private parts are blurred and obscured with soap. Jackson smokes almost the entire time he's on-screen, and language is constant: "f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "bitch," "a--hole," "p---y," the "N" word, and more.
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What's the story?
Written and directed by Romany Malco, TIJUANA JACKSON: PURPOSE OVER PRISON also stars Malco as the titular Jackson, a newly released inmate who plans to turn his life around by becoming a motivational speaker. But first he's got to stay in the good graces of his parole officer, Cheryl (Regina Hall) -- who happens to be his former high school girlfriend, so she knows all his tricks. Jackson is also hoping to win over his family members, who are pretty much permanently fed up with him. They include his sickly Momma (Baadja-Lyne Odums); his contemptuous sister, Sharea (Tami Roman); and his nephew, Lil Eric (Alkoya Brunson), who sees Jackson as a somewhat tarnished father figure. Can Jackson stay out of prison again and build a life for himself by helping others do the same? The odds are against him, but with a man this motivated, his shaky enterprise just might be headed somewhere.
Is it any good?
Profane and often hilarious, this indie comedy's streak of surprising sweetness -- and Jackson's contentious yet supportive relationships with his family and friends -- make for feel-good laughs. Jackson is something of a caricature, whom we're invited to laugh at as Tijuana Jackson begins: He's righteous, he talks a lot, he's overly sure of himself, and he buttonholes everyone around him to give advice in his role as a fledgling motivational speaker. The thing is, he's actually pretty good at the advice game. Among random anecdotes about prison life and lines about striving and doing your best, he occasionally sums up people's problems in a way that's devastatingly succinct.
The appealing thing about Jackson is that he can see a brighter future for himself and everyone he loves, even if right now he's sleeping in a car and providing impromptu therapy for strangers he meets down at the beach. No one thinks he can succeed at, well, anything, but, by the sheer force of his will and charm, he's actually getting somewhere. His family is so fed up with him when he gets out of prison that they don't even bother to pick him up. But slowly, lovingly, he worms his way back into their good graces. It's not a scheme: Jackson actually cares about his family. He tenderly rubs his mom's gnarled arthritic feet and empties her bed pan; he takes Lil Eric with him everywhere, filling the air between them with unasked-for advice, even as he provides solid role model service just by being there and caring. Despite his many flaws, Tijuana Jackson is a man going places, and you'll want to go with him.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison's message of forgiveness and personal responsibility. Does that come through amid all of the broad/crude humor?
How is Jackson represented? Does he have redeeming characteristics, or is he a caricature? Which aspects of Jackson's life are admirable, and which are less so? Do you consider him a role model? Why or why not?
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