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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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Fans of Richard Pryor have to watch this film - you really have no choice. For my money, Richard Pryor is / was one of the funniest comedians ever. Period. No-one can relate to an audience quite like him - no-one can use their personal experience to quite the same effect. So forgive me if I seem a little biased.
Although this film concerns itself with 'JoJo Dancer', it is basically Pryor's life story (check the syllables in the name) with Pryor playing himself. Bearing this in mind, it won't be completely truthful, although on the surface it shows Pryor in a very unflattering light, giving the impression that it is a straight-up factual account of events. Does this mean that the story is unflinching? Yes. Does it mean that the film is honest in its' account of Pryor's life, relationships and behaviour? Not necessarily. It omits certain events that have been detailed elsewhere, for instance his treatment of his white wife. But it is a deeply emotional and almost confessional film, make no mistake. It's obvious that Pryor has cut his directorial teeth on this film, but still it holds up remarkably well. It shifts from drama to slapstick comedy, from stand up routines to fantasy interludes. Although the continuity in certain scenes is dodgy (to say the least) and the screenplay jumps about alarmingly, WHAT WE SEE ON-SCREEN IS HOW PRYOR SAW HIMSELF AT THE TIME. There is an incredible self-deprecation in this film, something that has always been present in his stand-up, but to such a degree here that it becomes painful and heart-wrenching to watch. Scenes such as when his mother tells him that she loves him, or when his father is crying and showing remorse for hitting him, are things that Pryor could never have witnessed, or probably heard about. Instead they are scenes that he wishes HAD happened. The footage of him pouring spirits on himself then setting himself on fire is tragic, but imagine the courage that it must have taken to plan it, write it into the screenplay, finance it, act it, film it, edit it then release it for the world to see.
Yes, the film is limited. It skates over events that would benefit from more detail. It uses stereotypical characterisations for certain people to make the story more simplistic, and uses a gimmicky premise that becomes confused about halfway through. But as a confession, and a true-from-the-heart autobiographical account of a life that was almost ruined through self-inflicted excesses, this is a one of a kind film. You must see this.
Not only is this movie funny, but it's also clever as in it's idea, of having a clone of the Richard Pryor character as his savior. As we know, all comedians have suffered severe depression or encountered some horrible times in their lives. Coked up, an alcoholic too, Jo Jo (Pryor) severely burns himself. Coming out of it, enter the other Pryor, the voice inside his head, the apparition, telling him to get his life back on track. Obviously, bits of the movie are inspired from Pryor's background. The movie starts with Jo Jo as a kid, living with his mother, who (hows this?) manages a whorehouse, so he gets to the savor the tasty sights through peepholes, or through having his ears pressed up against the doors, hearing those joyous sounds of sex. As he grows up into his late teens, he tells his mother he's gonna become a comedian. Obviously her initial response has her laughing aloud. So he leaves and toughs it on his own, while later becoming involved with two women, the latter, Debbie Allen, wanting to see him dead. This is a strong drama, too a comedy, that's balanced well, but more a drama. Richard's stand up stuff here is top notch, just as good as his real stand up, where both are potent, with their much undeniable truth surfaced underneath. You can't help thinking, some of the real Richard has been incorporated into his character, Pryor, just as good a dramatic actor, as a comedic one. The explanatory joke involving birth, really cracked me up. Watch out for Wings Hauser who Pryor knocks out, when finding him and his first girlfriend in an uncompromising position, doing blow whatever. An anti drug alcohol movie in part, this shows the pitfalls and struggles of the virgin comedian, the highs and lows they encounter, the humiliation and bitter disappointments, he must first endure. and . The movie also features Marvin Gaye's "What's going On" over a montage. Allen (Fame) as Pryor's second wife is particularly good. A movie treat for Pryor fans or peepers, for that matter.
Jo Jo Dancer Your Life is Calling (1987)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
Richard Pryor direct, wrote, produced and stars in this film about a famous stand up comic who begins to rethink his life after catching himself on fire. If you've seen any of Pryor's three concert films then most of this film will be familiar since this is clearly an autobiographical film dealing with stuff we're heard Pryor discuss before. Everything from growing up in a whore house to his various marriages all the way to the fire incident, which nearly cost him his life. The director isn't the strongest in the world but Pryor's performance is right on the mark and the screenplay does a nice job at showing off these various stages in his life. The film has some very hard hitting moments and some touching ones just like his concert films.
...this movie resonates all the more of the difficult life he lived and
the humor that somehow came out of it.
Pryor begins life as the son of a Prostitute, later turns his hyper energy into Theatre (thanks to a school teacher who he later gave his 1st Emmey to), turns to drug and alcohol addiction, is savagely burned during a bad freebase accident, is diagnosed with MS, is forced to spend his life in a wheelchair and throughout goes through many divorces. And the man is funny - what a genius (campare to Beethoven's life).
Props to Richard Pryor for sharing his life and also for being the 1st African-American comedian to take on 'race' and actually making it work.
Pryor was the Man!
I hadn't thought about this movie for some time. I was in this movie. I was a King County deputy (outside Seattle) at the time working off duty for set security on this movie and was invited to be in it. I am one of the two cops (the one with all the hair) at the end of the movie confronting Richard Pryor. It was very interesting being involved in this movie. I got to meet Cycely and Richard Pryor and actually small talk for a bit with them between scenes. As far as the movie itself - I enjoyed it. It is funny and actually touching in parts. There were parts of this movie that were redone at a later date to "soften" it up some for the new improved Pryor (after his accident). The kids in this movie were great and some of them were actually disabled to some degree. Yes, I agree it would be interesting to see how some of the kids are doing now..24 yrs later. By the way, I don't have all the hair anymore. It is interesting to watch a movie filmed in your home area. Watch this movie...it is worth it. Sherlock
I found this film to be a really good depiction of Richard Pryor's life. But, I would've used the actual story of his life instead of using a fictional character to depict his life. Only a suggestion though Richard. But besides that, it is a great bio that has charm and laughs along the way (that later reminded me of Andy Kaufman's Man on the Moon). Trivia note- Pryor wrote, produced, directed (his first real film, though he directed Richard Pryor Here and Now) and starred in this film, which would be his last film to have writer, producer and director on his credits (he now has MS). A-
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Richard Pryor's semi-autobiographical film is uneven to say the least but has some fine moments. The scenes early in film featuring the young Jo Jo growing up in the whorehouse his mother and grandmother work in draw you in to Pryor's unique childhood. But the film moves away from this chapter of his life quickly. Despite the film's faults, you have to admire Pryor's bravery in recreating his incident in which he nearly ended his life by setting himself on fire. I guess I would've like to have seen this as "The Richard Pryor Story" rather than creating a fictional character to mirror Pryor's life. They even shot the childhood scenes in Pryor's hometown of Peoria, Illinois, yet call in Morton, Ohio.
Jo Jo Dancer (Richard Pryor) is a successful comedian. In a drunken
haze, he severely burns himself. His spirit watches his wounded body in
his hospital bed and recalls his journey to that point. As a child, Jo
Jo grew up in the brothel with his mother. As a young man, he decides
to go to the big city Cleveland to try his hand in stand up. His father
beats him up and his young wife is too afraid to go with him. He gets a
gig at a strip club. As his career rises, his marriages suffer a
roller-coaster ride of drug use and other difficulties.
This is a thinly-veiled personal docudrama. I think it's probably a mistake for Pryor to direct the movie himself. It's technically competent but the material is there for something much more compelling. The story never gets much tension. It's coated in a functional lifetime docudrama. An experienced director would be able to bring something more interesting in the structure and also a deeper performance from Pryor. I love Pryor as a comic and an actor. I don't love this movie quite as much.
Thin, sketchy story; interesting and well enough done but, like all these life history films, too little in too small a space. Dancer aged twenty years in about fifteen minutes of stage routines, then he went through three wives in around sixty minutes. If one wants to know about Pryor, reading his bio would be a wiser choice.
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