For Jojo sounds like a movie you’ve seen a hundred times. Two friends, one who is about to be married and the other who wants to stop that wedding from happening. Only usually, that movie is some kind of romantic comedy. For Jojo is as far from that genre as it gets, bringing a crushingly dramatic performance to the complicated relationship between Paula (Caro Cult) and Jojo (Nina Gummich) in this German-language Netflix Original directed by Barbara Ott and written by Stefanie Ren.
With the premise it has on paper, I thought I was getting into a lighthearted romp with perhaps some hijinx and a few cheap laughs. Nope. Not all. Instead, I got an incredibly passionate performance from Cult that I’m still stuck seeing myself in. Jojo and Paula have been best friends forever, it seems, surviving the trauma of growing up in a small island community and living together now. But you can tell from the very beginning that something is unhealthy in their relationship.
Paula relies seriously on Jojo for her emotional, social, and financial needs, while Jojo is far more content on her own. She is off to Mexico for the foreseeable future, and as she’s boarding the plane, she runs into somebody from home whose boarding the same flight in the seat right next to her. By the time Jojo and Daniel (Steven Sowah) come back in short order, they’re engaged and moving back home to start a new life together. Obviously, this doesn’t work for Paula, who is instantly moved to prevent their wedding and comes with them back home.
The way that Paula and Jojo’s relationship is written is very subtle. While its depiction evolves and becomes more clear as it continues to complicate, its nature also feels the most obvious to me in how I relate to it so deeply. It’s exceptionally difficult to be in Paula’s position, having your dearest friend and strongest support system suddenly push you away. Which isn’t to say that Jojo’s position is much better, she loves Paula, and it hurts her to hurt her so badly. But I empathize enormously with Paula. Her fraying relationship with Jojo is made to feel worse by having to sit there and watch her be in love when she’s so lonely. Jealousy is powerful, and even if she recognizes the jealousy, it doesn’t make the pain of it any more bearable.
Cult plays this tear so, so well. She’s constantly swinging between moments of rage, manic, depression, empathy, and joy, and every one of them is so layered from her face to her voice to her body language. It’s a performance that completely carries the entire movie. Jojo, Daniel, and other characters often feel like they’re more two-dimension, which is fine. This is really Paula’s story. But this excellent performance also makes the whole movie. It’s just so good.
One small side plot that comes up a few times is Paula’s relationship with her brother. It’s never clearly explained at all why Paula left home or what her relationship with her family is, but the few times her brother shows up, he gets to act as a small but strong foil to Paula’s relationship with Jojo. She never judges her brother or finds herself jealous of him. She’s simply glad for what path he’s taken.
I’m totally satisfied with the lack of backstory we get for Paula, and we get enough hints to let the mind wander and make guesses for itself through some of Jojo’s history and conversations with others. Some of the place settings help with this element as well. The score, in particular, combines electronic, modern urban sounds with classic surfer vibes in key moments to draw attention to Paula’s strewn history and relationships.
For Jojo is excellent for two reasons: its main character is incredibly well performed, and its main conflict is incredibly well contrived. This is not a rom-com with a rom-com arc or a rom-com ending. It’s a painfully real story of people moving in different directions embued with sharp parallelism to help drive home a point quite the opposite of what its comedic cousins with similar conceits would have you endure. Moments from across the movie and the different relationships we watch all culminate in an ending that is emotionally shocking but realistically inevitable, certainly for those who can commiserate with it.
For Jojo is streaming now on Netflix.
For Jojo is excellent for two reasons: its main character is incredibly well performed, and its main conflict is incredibly well contrived. Moments from across the movie and the different relationships we watch all culminate in an ending that is emotionally shocking but realistically inevitable, at least to those who can commiserate with its movements.