Cinematically speaking, few things are as difficult to pull off as an original, charming, genuinely funny romantic comedy. Most of Hollywood's recent attempts have been either bland (Two Weeks Notice), totally predictable (Sweet Home Alabama), or both (Life or Something Like It). Thankfully, the indie world has more refreshing fare to offer like overlooked gem Jump Tomorrow. Director Joel Hopkins' feature debut (based on his own 1998 short film "Jorge") opened on just eight screens in the summer of 2001, garnering less than $200,000 at the box office over the course of its brief theatrical run. But ask anyone who managed to see it, and they'll tell you that they were captivated by the sweet story of an uptight fellow named George who learns to follow his heart and turns into "Jorge" somewhere along the way. Part Strictly Ballroom, part Like Water for Chocolate, and part something completely its own, Jump Tomorrow takes a fairly basic storyline and turns it into something new and different, blending hints of magical realism with a pop-inspired landscape that would warm the cockles of Andy Warhol's heart. The film's plot doesn't exactly chart new romantic comedy territory: Staid, buttoned-down hero George (Tunde Adebimpe) is all set to go along with the life his Nigerian relatives have laid out for him starting with an arranged marriage to childhood friend Sophie (Abiola Abrams) when he meets vivacious Latina girl Alicia (Natalia Verbeke) at the airport and unexpectedly loses his heart (i.e., "boy meets girl"). After finding out that Alicia has a boyfriend (pompous professor Nathan, ably played by James Wilby), George is disappointed, but resigned to his fate ("boy loses girl"). Then loopy, lovelorn Frenchman Gerard (Hippolyte Girardot, in a delightfully screwball performance) intervenes and urges George to listen to his heart instead of his head ("boy chases girl across upstate New York in a beat-up European car, fending off aggressive women and having Spanish-soap opera-inspired fantasies.") Streamline the nationalities and tweak the details of how and where the characters meet, and you've got Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock's Forces of Nature, or any number of other mainstream romantic comedies in which an unadventurous main character is transformed by the power of love.
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What sets Jump Tomorrow apart is its sensibility an admittedly vague term that here covers everything from Adebimpe's fabulously droll work as George to production designer John Paino's stark, blocky sets and swingin' props. The extremity of George's pale, passive approach to life is contrasted perfectly by the bright primary colors of the world around him; life is there waiting for him he just doesn't see it until he meets Alicia and she infuses his world with her energy and enthusiasm. To her credit, Verbeke doesn't often fall back on the Latina-woman-equals-earthy-spiciness conventions Hollywood likes so much (remember Salma Hayek in Fools Rush In?). Her Alicia is colorful and spirited, yes, but she's also smart, hip, and artsy: She'd probably choose a J. Crew sweater and Doc Martens over a tight shirt and high heels. (Unfortunately, some of those stereotypes are present in the character of Consuelo, Alicia's feisty, food-loving mother, who's overplayed by Patricia Mauceri.) But the film's real scene-stealer is Girardot; his Gerard a man in love with love is both hilarious and sweetly appealing, the perfect foil for stone-faced George. He's the Puckish fairy godmother in this modern storybook tale, the catalyst George needs to snap out of his meek existence and do something. As much as George loves Alicia, he and Gerard are actually the film's central pair, and their odd-couple relationship is the heart of Jump Tomorrow's screwball appeal.
Thankfully, more movie lovers will be able to discover that for themselves now that Jump Tomorrow is on DVD. MGM's disc offers a lovely anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) that works well on the small screen Paino's bold designs and Hopkins' stylish direction look just as good at home as they did in the theater. The Dolby 2.0 Surround audio is also strong, nicely showcasing the eclectic soundtrack (English and Spanish subtitles are also available). Extras include the theatrical trailer and an audio commentary by Hopkins, Adebimpe, and producer Nicola Usborne. The trio's chatter is relatively low-key, but it's also warmly enthusiastic; it's easy to tell they have a genuine affection for the film. And, really, with a charmer like this, who can blame them? Keep-case.