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Categories: Movie Reviews

Francesca Amoroso saw The Joneses, a touching documentary on life as a transgender woman in Mississippi, at Raindance Film Festival and gave us her thoughts.

A touching tale of one family’s struggles over issues of transgenderism, homosexuality, religion and marriage, The Joneses is an honest look at the reality of being considered different in the heart of God-loving, Bible Belt Mississippi.

Jheri Jones (formerly Jerry) is a whirlwind of elegant Southern refinement, dancing around her trailer and exuding a complete love for life, she is enigmatic, witty and a wholly unusual matriarch. Jheri is a 70-something divorcee, attempting to piece her family back together after the untimely death of her ex-wife and being reunited with her sons after years of estrangement in the wake of Jheri’s transition to female.

The film is honest and direct. Filmmaker Moby Longinotto shot the documentary over the course of six years and became intimately intertwined with this unique family of archetypal ancestry. His incredible rapport with them all is evident in his cosy camerawork, capturing moments that in any other family would not be acceptable for public speculation.

Set in an epitomes “off-the-beaten track” milieu, we meet the two sons Jheri currently lives with, Trevor and Brad, who themselves have issues and troubles outside of their discomfort with Jheri and the mourning of their mother. Brad is one of a pair of fraternal twins who both suffer from brain damage, his counterpart required to live in a home with constant care, and Trevor is crippled by debilitating insecurities, attempting to come to terms with his true identity and find love in the process.

We are allowed a closer look at the conflictions and tensions between the newly reunited Joneses. Jheri’s sons proclaim their acceptance of her but also openly admit that it has taken some getting used to, calling their dad, ‘mom.’ They lost their father in more ways than one and whilst Jheri broke free of her oppressive marriage and identity, her children were left wondering what happened and why their father left them.

Religion’s pervasive influence over the inhabitants of ‘The Magnolia State’ permeates the film and its reverberations are seen to infect and affect every member of the Joneses. Trevor is tormented by his own sexuality, not wanting to disappoint the memory of his devout religious mother and Jheri’s church, which she has attended for well over 40 years, basically ignores her and believes it has accepted her by simply not rejecting her.

Longinotto does well to navigate the mine-field of social and political issues that are raised within the film, opting for no formal interviews and allowing the family to show themselves organically. His camera is never stationary, he moves within the home, following their drama as it unfolds in domestic and wholly un-theatrical ways. At moments he is forced to chase his subjects, especially Jheri’s grandchildren who are far from comfortable being on camera, capturing moments of uninhibited honesty after their realisation of who Jheri truly is… “She’s my favourite Grandma…she’s my Grandma-pa.”

In a state that has more churches per capita than any other in the U.S., Jheri’s abandonment of her male gender has not been easily forgotten and we see that ultimately her community will never truly accept her. Her willingness to be so candid and open with her home life and family is a testament to her unwavering devotion to simply be who she is.

Jheri and her sons continue to live and love, they bicker and argue like any other family but you feel their undying devotion to eachother. Theirs is a family that demands acceptance of one another more than most and Longinotto’s film is a beautiful expression of disregarding social norms for the satisfaction of familial understanding.

For more information on the documentary please find it here: http://www.thejonesesdoc.com/

Francesca Amoroso

Francesca is currently a Camera Assistant, working and living in London. She is an MA Film Studies graduate from UCL and writes about film in her spare time.

Posted on Oct 9, 2017

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