In this film that closely parallels his own life story, Richard Pryor plays Jo Jo Dancer, a popular stand-up comedian who has severely burned himself in a drug incident. As he lies unconscious in a hospital, his spiritual alter ego gets up and begins a journey of his own. He revisits his life, from growing up in a brothel as a child and struggling to beat the long odds to become a top rated comedian. However, his success brings new problems as he develops a tragic pattern of substance abuse that begins to screw up his life. All the while, Jo Jo's spirit watches these events and attempts to convince his past self to turn off from his path of self destruction. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I'm not sure if a biographical film as raw and truthful as "Jo Jo Dancer" ever had a chance to be a big financial hit. But viewed now, more than 15 years later, it is obvious that the film did not deserve the critical drubbing it got back in the day. Writer-director-producer-star Richard Pryor created a very strong film, simultaneously entertaining, funny, pathetic, provocative, heartbreaking, revealing, and raw. Two things held it back. Firstly, it was too rough for the super-slick mid-80s, being shot and structured more like a seventies film. Secondly, even though the climax of the film--Jo Jo setting himself on fire in a harrowing, drug-fueled despair--is powerful, it lacks a sense of closure. Sadly, the reason for this is that, like the real life Richard Pryor upon whose life the story is based, Jo Jo doesn't die at the end. He is badly burned and we are briefly shown that he lives to continue his career, just as Pryor did.
The story is told through flashbacks, after Jo Jo has set himself on fire, focusing on how he got to that point. Since the story abruptly ends soon after his suicide attempt, however, we are not shown much of what happens after that point. In an odd bit of irony, Jo Jo's survival then makes for an unsatisfying conclusion, story-wise. It's as though Pryor is saying, hey I burned myself up and that made me all better. It just isn't satisfying.
Other than those minor points, however, "Jo Jo" is a fine film that stands as one of the best of Pryor's spotty film career, and one of the very few dramatic films that allowed his unique brand of rage and vulnerability to show through completely ("Blue Collar" and "The Mack" being two others).
Not a classic, but certainly not the bomb it was painted as in '86. And, I might add, head and shoulders above the majority of dramatic films cranked out by hollywood today.
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