Not all coming of age stories are created equal.
In recent years, a lot of this material has often fallen into the category of either the shallow and silly, or the overly smutty (yeah, I’m looking at you, Netflix…).
Even the artistically good and morally okay-ish films in this vein from recent years, like the hard-to-watch Eighth Grade, still often leave the viewer felling like, “Wow, things seem a little hopeless.”
But then you get a film like Her Name Was Jo, from Catholic director and screenwriter Joe Duca. This is a film that starts in a fairly depressing place but brings the viewer along on a much more hopeful journey.
The premise of Her Name Was Jo
Ten-year-old Josephine (played by newcomer Mary Cate Williams), who goes by Jo, lives in a trailer with her junkie stepdad near the Shenandoah River. She is very independent, because she has to be.
Jo spends her free time fishing, doing target practice with a pistol, scrapping for metal, and hanging out with her girlier best friend Selma (played by Elisa Duca, the director’s sister – as a sidenote, it’s pretty cool to see how many family members were involved in making the film, when you watch the credits).
Jo’s mother isn’t in the picture anymore, and we learn that her real father is a famous folk singer named Johnny Alvarez. When her stepfather dies of a drug overdose, she and Selma decide to set out together across the country to find Johnny Alvarez.
A grim start, but a compelling journey
The opening act of the film is kind of dark, as we see the filth of Jo’s homelife, her stepdad’s drug use and death… and then the corpse starts to stink.
Despite this, the journey the girls take quickly starts to get interesting as they drive (barely able to see over the steering wheel), encounter plenty of obstacles, and come across a pregnant woman who needs help.
The story turns into a journey of learning how to start becoming a woman, despite the harshness of Jo’s childhood that forced her to be as tough as a grown man.
There’s also a nice non-contrived scene in a Catholic Church, and an ending that’s not a tidy all-okey-dokey resolution but is very hopeful, nonetheless.
It’s just a good story
This isn’t a Christian or a Catholic film per se, definitely not a “faith-based” story in the typical sense of the word. But it shows the triumph of good in a situation that could have turned out very badly for a young girl.
Also, it’s not rated yet, but the content is probably be PG-13 for violence, drug use, and thematic issues (nothing really offensive, which is certainly nice these days).
The film isn’t perfect, and its low budget does occasionally shine through. But the uplifting and well-done story definitely make this a film worth watching.
Her Name Was Jo is available to watch online through October as part of the Los Angeles Lift-Off Film Festival in the Feature Film New Voices section (and you can also vote for it in the audience awards!).
Love a good story? Allow me to shamelessly plug my novel, Sydney and Calvin Have a Baby!