Gabrielle Union's "BEING MARY JANE" is receiving very good reviews *Spoilers*

The San Francisco Chronicle
'Being Mary Jane' review: A complex career woman by David Wiegand

Being Mary Jane: Made-for-TV film. 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 2 on BET; Series starts in January 2014.

"Being Mary Jane" is BET's first-ever original film, and by the time it's over, you'll be in love with the title character and find yourself thinking, "Wow, this should be a series."

And that's exactly what BET has in mind in the story of a career woman named Mary Jane Paul (Gabrielle Union) who has it all - and by "all," we mean the responsibility of taking care of her family, pursuing her career and trying to find meaning in her life through Post-it reminders bearing words of wisdom from Kathie Lee Gifford and Dante Alighieri.

She also has a boyfriend who says he loves her, but keeps his wedding ring in his pocket when he pays late-night booty calls.

The film, airing Tuesday, is notable for many things, including a solid cast and a script that's willing to take the time to explore character in a realistic way. At the start of the film, Mary Jane, a popular TV newsmagazine anchor, is playing hostess to her drunk boyfriend, Andre Daniels (Omari Hardwick).

In the afterglow of lovemaking, she's looking for a sign from God that they are meant to be together. Andre wakes up and pukes, and she steps on his wedding ring while picking his clothes off the floor.

So much for signs from above.

The film's beginning may lead us to think we're in for a kind of BET take on a Hallmark Channel romance about a workaholic career woman who winds up with the man of her dreams.

Think again.

Creator Mara Brock Akil studiously avoids the predictable TV-film templates. If you consider Mary Jane in the context of real life, the plot developments are not only relatively credible but almost a relief. The script is notable for the near-revolutionary way it doesn't assume its viewers are idiots who always need dialogue to explain what's happening on screen.

At one point, for example, Mary Jane is at home at the end of a long day. She's in her kitchen, watching TV and a commercial comes on featuring mothers with their infants. We don't need an explanation about why Mary Jane reacts to the commercial the way she does - we get it just fine. The scene isn't a big moment, but it stands out because we realize that in less capable hands, "Being Mary Jane" would take time to tell us with dialogue that Mary Jane feels the biological clock ticking and rues the wrong choices for romance she's made too often in her life.

In addition to her job, Mary Jane is pulled in all directions by her family, including her ailing mother (Margaret Avery), her brother Patrick (Richard Brooks), her younger brother, Paul Jr. (B.J. Britt), her caring, long-suffering dad (Richard Roundtree) and Patrick's teenage daughter Niecy (Raven Goodwin), whose greatest talent seems to be getting pregnant.

Mary Jane believes, incorrectly, that she's the only responsible one in the family. Patrick isn't the layabout she thinks he is, and Niecy may not bother with birth control but she knows enough to visit a clinic when she gets pregnant. Nonetheless, Mary Jane is convinced the entire family would crumble if it weren't for her.

While Mary Jane is a high-powered, independent woman with a great career, the film avoids knee-jerk simplicity, instead, making the character a credibly complex woman. She has a good relationship with her gay work colleague, Mark (Aaron D. Spears), and with her Latina Gayle King, Kara (Lisa Vidal), but she doesn't get lost in her job as a way of avoiding other aspects of her life.

She feels strongly about trying to make a difference through her show by tackling substantive issues, as when she battles her bosses to challenge a psychology magazine's cover story asking if black women are ugly.

"Being Mary Jane" stands on its own as a film, and Mary Jane definitely works through some of her issues, but the film doesn't tie everything up in a neat package at the end. The lack of a complete resolution fits the realism woven throughout the script, but of course it also sets up "Being Mary Jane" the series, tentatively set to launch in January.

The performances are very good at every level, in part because the script is good enough to bring out the best in this cast. Union has a long and varied career in film and TV, but Mary Jane is a role she owns so thoroughly, she achieves new depth as an actress.

David Wiegand is The San Francisco Chronicle's executive features editor and TV critic. E-mail: Twitter:@WaitWhat_TV

Medialife Magazine

‘Being Mary Jane,’ being worth watching
Viewers will relate to the title character in this BET movie

By Tom Conroy

TV shows and movies about minorities and women — and especially those about minority womenoften have an extra burden: Certain details are taken to be statements about all of the members of the particular group, and the shows can be blamed for either confirming or ignoring stereotypes. To take one recent example, the creators of Lifetime’s comedy-drama “Devious Maids” have been criticized for having all of its Latina stars play servants.

One therefore understands the frustration of Mara Brock Akil, the creator of BET’s new movie “Being Mary Jane,” who has placed the following disclaimer in a graphic that appears just before the title: “42 percent of black women have never been married. … This is one black woman’s story…not meant to represent all black women.”

In fact, the title character is a cliché in fiction about black women: a beautiful, successful, educated woman who can’t find a suitable mate. At the same time, that stereotype is sprinkled with some details that will make many viewers wonder if any woman anywhere behaves like that.

Fortunately, as Mary Jane, Gabrielle Union makes the character engaging even when we’re not quite sure how to take her. Although her reactions aren’t always relatable, her problems, whether soapy or gritty, are. Viewers will root for her to win.

Airing next Tuesday, July 2, at 10:30 p.m., and serving as a “backdoor pilot” for a series to debut in January 2014, the movie is built on the contrast between Mary Jane’s success as an on-air news anchor — she hosts a show called “Talk Back With Mary Jane Paul” — and her difficult personal life: She can’t find an equally successful man who’s willing to commit, and she’s virtually the sole support for her downwardly mobile extended family, which is becoming more extensive all the time.

Having just learned after a passionate and graphic late-night encounter that her boyfriend of six months is married — she drives him off her property with a garden hose — Mary Jane wants to produce news stories on black women’s relationship problems. She’s outraged by a magazine cover story that asks “Are Black Women Ugly?” (An actual blog post on the Psychology Today website was titled “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”)

Mary Jane’s producer and friend, Kara (Lisa Vidal), tells her that if she keeps insisting on doing a story criticizing that article, she’ll just be labeled an angry black woman.

Mary Jane’s family life actually should make her angry. Her mother, Helen (Margaret Avery), is chronically ill and is being cared for poorly by Mary Jane’s otherwise unemployed brother, Patrick (Richard Brooks). Patrick’s daughter Niecy (Raven Goodwin) is pregnant.

Niecy wants Mary Jane to hold the baby shower at her house because then her boyfriend might attend. It turns out his “real girlfriend” is also pregnant and wants to hold her baby shower on the same day.

Mary Jane blows her stack and tells her siblings that there are too many babies and not enough jobs in the family. But then she holds the shower and buys her niece the expensive stroller she wanted.

Mary Jane has an ex-boyfriend, David (Stephen Bishop), who is listed as “Never Answer” on her phone. Nonetheless, she finds herself wavering when he calls at the end of a long day of work.

In one of those moments that will have viewers wondering if the show is reality based, Mary Jane decides the best way to keep her head straight on the date/booty call is to use the method that Chris Elliott’s character recommended to Ben Stiller’s character in “There’s Something About Mary.” Even more oddly, Mary Jane discusses this with Kara, who seems to think it’s standard operating procedure.

Throughout, the movie shares various details of dating hygiene that some viewers will consider refreshingly frank and others just plain icky.

Later, Mary Jane seems to be considering a solution to her maternal yearnings that viewers will probably find both icky and implausible.

Though the swings from seriousness to tastelessness may sound abrupt, “Being Mary Jane” holds together and keeps us entertained. Mary Jane is both typical and idiosyncratic. That makes her like most of us, and that’s why most us will like her.

"Being Mary Jane" is a Victory for BET Programming

For much of its existence, Black Entertainment Television (BET) has been hammered and severely critiqued for its video-laden and music programming. Oftentimes, critics would blast the Viacom-owned network for its lack of vision of  original material that depict African Americans in a positive light, or at the very least, show another slice of life that don’t always incorporate hip hop and rap music and degrading slapstick comedy.

In tune to keeping that momentum going with television audiences, BET looks as if they have pulled off another coup with the film, but soon-to-be-dramatic series,” Being Mary Jane,” starring actress Gabrielle Union. No pun intended, but this union of great writing and superb acting to go along with a stellar cast, gives BET the right kind of formula for success expected from the drama production.

Mara Brock Akil, the show’s creator, does a masterful job of blending in the right notes of reality that grips a beautiful young woman (Union), struggling to keep her sanity together. Despite balancing an up-and-down love life, dealing with a stricken, depressed mother (Margaret Avery), being the financial caretaker of family members and trying to stay on top of her game as a television news anchor, Mary Jane is the Superwoman that R&B songbird Karyn White used to sing about.

And that’s a lot to chew on for anybody. Somehow, some way, Union’s character, Mary Jane Paul, successfully manages to do it. But that doesn’t mean that Mary Jane’s ability to juggle all of these roles doesn’t come with a price. “Being Mary Jane,” which makes its BET debut July 2, serves as a gritty, but realistic example of family life-good and bad.

Sure, all of the main characters are black, the but the script is so well-written and thoroughly developed that the scenario played out in front of your eyes is such that this formula could be applied to any ethnic group. One then could very well make the conclusion that this is life, that “Being Mary Jane” is identifiable with the rest of us.

Mary Jane is one of us. We are Mary Jane. Fans, once they see the movie, won’t get enough of it. They don’t have to worry about that. It’s already being taken care of. An original BET film, “Being Mary Jane,” is expected to turn into a series that will air on BET in January next year.  For right now, though, there are enough plots and subplots in the film that will leave you full.

When it comes to her love life, Mary Jane is desperate, searching for that one-of-a-kind emotion in all of the wrong places. The film starts off with Mary Jane getting physical with a lover before discovering she’s been sleeping around with a married man. She goes on and plays with sex toys. She ends up back in the arms or bed with a discarded ex-boyfriend.

So much for love.

While she bounces around not knowing what she’s going to do about her love life, dealing with family brings a lot more baggage and carries a lot more financial weight for this diva. The onus to pick up the slack for certain family members, including her brother Patrick Patterson (Richard Brooks) , leaves Mary Jane exasperated to the point that she eventually vents her frustration of having to always be the money bailout plan.

Being in a pressure-cooker of a job as a TV news anchor doesn’t make life easier for Mary Jane, as she tries to come up with the right stories to please her bosses and keep herself relevant on the air. With all of this turmoil swirling around in her life, Mary Jane still is able to draw back and reflect on the reality side when she spends quiet moments with her father, Paul Patterson Sr. (played with the steady hand of Richard Roundtree).

In a nutshell, “Being Mary Jane,” though imperfect at times, could be the right vehicle to steer BET in the direction of creating more fascinating and realistic storytelling productions.

The Daily Beast

Bridget Jones for the 'Girlfriends' Set

Gabrielle Union stars in Being Mary Jane, on the sometimes fun, sometimes lonely life of the single black career girl.

The new BET scripted series Being Mary Jane starts off with the much-quoted statistic that 42 percent of African-American women are single, but before you roll your eyes, you should note that it quickly says this is only one woman’s story.

Gabrielle Union plays the lead character, Mary Jane, a beautiful, successful, well-educated single woman. She drives a fancy car, lives in a beautiful home, and has a great job as a news anchor. But we soon learn her world is not perfect—far from it. Indeed, one minute Mary Jane is laughing with her gay best friend and the next she’s sitting on the edge of her tub crying her eyes out.

It is the latest project from writer and producer Mara Brock Akil, creator of Girlfriends and The Game. Akil is known for exploring the lives of African-American women through her work. Her recent venture takes us beyond the statistics and gives us a glimpse into the life of one black woman—the challenges she faces and her difficult journey.

“I’m really trying to speak about women, but through the lens this time of a black woman. A lot of times we get to experience what a woman is through other cultures, other nuances. And I just think it’s beautiful that her face this time is beautiful and brown,” says Akil.

Like many single black women, Mary Jane struggles to balance her career aspirations, dysfunctional family life, and a love life filled with betrayal and disappointment. For the many women at a recent screening of the movie in Washington, D.C., this is a story they know all too well.

“I could see myself in that film,” says Rachelle Johnson, 36, an international-relations public-policy wonk. “I saw a lot of parallels in my life and what women experience in their work life, personal life with relationships, as well as family life.”

We see Mary Jane deal with an ailing mother, a bereft father, and a brother dealing with substance abuse. When her young niece gets pregnant yet again, Mary Jane desperately tries to get her on another path, only to realize that her efforts are for naught.

Cassandra Morgan, 52, a health-care consultant, says she can relate.

“She’s kind of the one that’s holding the family together. They come to her when they have issues in terms of money,” says Morgan, a graduate of Spelman College. “Unfortunately that is what happens to a lot of us. We end up taking on the family issues.”

On the job, Mary Jane thrives. She is a popular anchor with an admiring fan base. But behind the scenes she fights to get stories on the air that she is passionate about and feels are important.

Angela Wagner, 41, says she understands the challenges of trying to be heard in the workplace, and as an African-American woman, she says, she often has to edit her ideas. She attended Howard University and knows many Mary Janes—the super-successful black woman who has yet to find that truly intimate, committed, monogamous relationship where she is adored, cherished, and respected.

“I have many, many friends, who are professional, fit, educated, who have master’s degrees, law degrees, medical degrees, and they’re all single. Never been married,” says Wagner, a legal administrator in Washington, D.C. “They’ve dated, but it’s never come together for them.”

It’s a familiar refrain.

“You know, you work hard and you look up and you have these things that you’ve tried to accomplish—the successful career, the house, the car—but there are aspects missing from your life—there’s no family, there’s no spouse, there’s no children, because you’ve spent all your energy and time trying to get these other things in place,” points out Johnson, who has a master's degree from Georgetown University. “It was interesting because she was a successful woman and people thought she was happy. People assume because you have the material wealth that you’re happy.

Though there may be comparisons to Ally McBeal or Bridget Jones, Mary Jane is a different character, unique in her complexity, yet universal in her humanness. She’s funny and flawed. She doesn’t make the best decisions all the time and sometimes does more damage than good. You want to shake her, hug her, sit her down. But you ultimately root for her.

Being Mary Jane provides a different perspective of the black woman, says Morgan.

“It depicts a side of black women that you don’t typically see portrayed on TV,” notes the D.C. native. “A lot of times they try to make us ‘the angry black woman.’”

Johnson says she doesn’t associate with the women on television. “If you look at the reality shows, I’m not really represented in those shows as a black woman,” says Johnson. “What’s interesting though is that [Akil] was able to depict that reality of our lives in a show that’s not a reality show. She did a scripted show that I think is more realistic and more real.”

And that’s her goal, says Akil, to paint the reality of black women and peel back the layers that make us who we are—the success, the fashion, the hair, the makeup, and all the things that say “We are somebody, see us, think of us.”

Being Mary Jane the movie premieres on BET July 2, and the series starts in 2014. Wagner is looking forward to the show.

“I welcome something like this on television—black women who have it together, who don’t necessarily have to fight to get what they need and know how to handle their business,” says Wagner. “It’s just a nice fresh change as far as television shows.”

Indeed, Mary Jane exemplifies today’s single black woman—educated, accomplished, driven. Yet her heart yearns for more. We get a front-row seat to the inner workings of her life beyond the image she portrays to the world. There we find a complicated soul hidden behind an anchorwoman’s smile.

“I think Mary Jane is all of us, and I think it’s time for us to redefine who we are and not keep chasing what we have been told,” says Akil. “She’s not perfect, but I do believe she’s deserving of love. She’s deserving of the best, and I think that’s all of us.”