Writer/director/editor Romany Malco Jr’s Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison utilizes the film-within-a-film trope wherein Rachel (Shannon Dang) – a film student approaching graduation – decides to base her final 10 minute short film assignment on Tijuana Jackson (Malco Jr.), a convict whose inspirational and motivational blog is making waves.
When Jackson is released on parole, he sets off to take over the world as a motivational speaker, bolstered by an invitation to audition for a Toast Masters reality show.
With the documentary film crew in tow, Jackson moves back in with his mother (Baadja-Lyne Odums) in Florida. Living with her is his sister Sharea (Tami Roman), and his nephew Lil’ Eric (Alkoya Brunson). He later plans a trip to Orlando, and many things go wrong.
I quite enjoyed this film. I didn’t find it to be crazily funny, but I had a number of really good belly laughs throughout. Malco Jr. is wonderful as the titular Tijuana Jackson. Jackson is apparently a character that the actor has been portraying for some time. His quick wit and comic timing play well alongside a screenplay that is silly, funny, and genuine. His mother chastising him for using profanity. And his automatic response of “copy that” gave me a strong chuckle each time. I also really liked his chemistry with Cheryl (Regina Hall), a former girlfriend and his current parole officer. There is some kind of a love in that relationship, but also a good natured yet somewhat cynical dysfunction.
Romany’s performance of Jackson himself reminded me considerably of Ricky from Trailer Park Boys. The movie is very different from that series. But with the documentary presentation did ring very familiar. The same goes with Tijuana’s ability to talk his way out of almost anything. There’s also the fact that he lives in borderline poverty.
I found the film fairly funny. But it surprised me was the fact that it truly can inspire audiences. That’s what makes the film work. There are elements of The Shawshank Redemption, with hope being a central theme, although weaponized here for comedy. Further it is very much an underdog story, something I think we can all appreciate. Tijuana Jackson is clearly a bit of a trickster, someone who makes decisions on the fly, right or wrong. But at the end of the day, his selfishness and selflessness along with his motivational attitude is genuinely moving. That’s despite having everything against him. The film also takes a couple of twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, and I enjoyed those twists. Particularly, the movie makes his relationship with his nephew evolve in a beautiful way.
Romany Malco Jr. financed this film through an Indiegogo campaign that raised over $200,000 from his fans and supporters. I think that’s a wonderful thing. More and more these days we see the influence of the fan community on the film industry. Zack Snyder’s Justice League coming to HBO Max being the obvious example.
Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison is fun, and while maybe not as funny as I was hoping, it is still quite entertaining. It’s inspiring, genuine, lovely, and honestly, it’ll make you feel really good.