Sun. Feb 5th, 2023

Sundance: Chon’s newest presents moments of magnificence and innovation, however they’re mired within the filmmaker’s most narratively trite function but.

As a director, Justin Chon has lengthy trafficked in tales about fractured households in heightened conditions. “Gook” was a few pair of brothers operating their father’s shoe retailer within the aftermath of his dying and within the shadow of the Los Angeles riots. “Ms. Purple”  adopted estranged siblings making an attempt to make amends with their father earlier than his dying. “Blue Bayou” forged Chon himself as an immigrant father making an attempt to remain within the U.S. whereas the federal government tries to toss him out.

Fathers, kids, and horrible exterior forces are additionally at play in his fifth function movie, “Jamojaya,” which continues Chon’s conventional obsessions however wraps them in a shallow story full of predictable issues, apparent baddies, and trite classes. In increasing his viewpoint past his sometimes smaller-scale tales — each by way of the movie’s basic plot, which follows a rising younger rapper who learns (gasp) that the music business is unhealthy, and in making an attempt new filmmaking strategies to match it, like a brand new bent towards hand-held camerawork — Chon sadly nonetheless turns in his emotionally and narratively thinnest function up to now.

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It begins robust sufficient: rising younger rapper James (performed by an precise rising younger rapper, viral star Brian “Wealthy Brian” Imanuel) and his father (a heartbreaking Yayu A.W. Unru), who additionally serves as his supervisor, are showing on an area Indonesian chat present. The subject is James’ profession, which is about to take him to Hawaii to document his very first album, however which additionally necessitates him “parting methods” along with his father, no less than in an expert capability. This comes as a shock to his dad who, regardless of a lack of know-how of the music world and a critical aversion to touring (the explanation of which is hinted at, after which later defined in one of many movie’s most compelling twists), appeared to imagine he would at all times be guiding his youngest son. Not so.

Chon then introduces, through an animated sequence, the story of the eponymous Jamojaya, an Indonesian folks story a few poisoned prince who turns right into a banyan tree, and whose household struggles to ponder the thriller and that means of his new type. It’s a stirring allegory that may each information and additional pull aside James and his father throughout a very fraught time in each of their lives.

When James units out for Hawaii, he’s shocked to search out his father sizzling on his tail, keen to help (even actually; at one level the older man downgrades himself to James’ assistant, ordering lunches for annoying hangers-on who clearly don’t care about both of them) his son as he makes an attempt to interrupt into the music world. The cliches run rampant: the always-welcome Kate Lyn Shiel seems as James’ new and predictably bitchy supervisor, Anthony Kiedis (!!) is on deck as a music video director who solely cares about his personal imaginative and prescient, and “Misplaced” alum Henry Ian Cusick is the label proprietor who’s as evil as he’s thinly drawn.

A lot of the motion unfolds almost as vignettes, which appear meant to hammer residence the disconnection between father and son in the obvious of how, whereas each dialogue both entails screaming fights or oft-repeated platitudes. Odd pops of humor distract (please don’t forged the splendidly humorous Kyle Mooney in a short position and anticipate audiences to not titter), sufficient to detract from Imanuel and Unru’s work, which is finely tuned even within the moments by which “Jamojaya” as a complete will not be.

Equally obscured by Chon and Maegan Houang’s authentic screenplay: filmmaking strategies that present scattered however critical moments of magnificence and innovation, lifting a movie that too typically feels mired in cliches. Do you know that the music business is full of art-destroying vultures? That grief is messy? That familial secrets and techniques can hurt? All this and extra (if extra means “weirdly, probably the most gorgeously lensed section requires us to look at James’ father debase himself with copious quantities of molly whereas getting a lap-dance at a seedy strip membership and Billie Eilish’s ‘Ocean Eyes’ performs over the complete, horrifying affair”), and in some way additionally, much less.

Grade: C+

“Jamojaya” premiered on the 2023 Sundance Movie Competition. It’s at the moment searching for distribution. 

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