Film Review: Jamojaya (Sundance 2023) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, March 21st, 2023  


Studio: Tunnel Post
Director: Justin Chon

Jan 30, 2023 Web Exclusive
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Justin Chon’s newest feature, Jamojaya, swirls two great potential film ideas into one unsatisfying 90-minute mass. It’s a film about the relationship between a father and his son, but also one about a rapper fighting against his record company. It’s a film about how people cope with grief, but also one about the creative process. It’s a film about too much yet not enough.

Jamojaya centers around James (Brian Immanuel, also known as the rapper ‘Rich Brian’), an Indonesian rapper who has achieved fame with a viral song. Signed to a big record company, James spends his days in a Hawaiian beachside mansion, trying to produce tracks for his debut album. He attempts to place elements of his identity into his music but is constantly stopped by his business executive managers. On top of this, James has to deal with Joyo (Yayu A.W. Unru), his father and former manager who refuses to return to Indonesia, offering to be James’ assistant so he can stay in Hawai’i.

As the film inches forward, we also learn more about James’ past, his strained relationship with Joyo and his brother’s untimely death. There’s a sense that James’ passivity keeps him from both creating the music he wants to create and being the artist he wants to be. As such, the film is essentially a story about James trying to gain control of his life, attempting to find his identity in a world that cares about what he brings but not who he is.

The irony is that Jamojaya doesn’t seem to have an identity. The film is a melting pot of different narratives, and it almost feels as if Chon is subbing different ones out every five minutes to see what sticks. By far, the film is most striking when it explores the divides between father and son, commenting on familial honor and respect. But even this narrative gets over-complicated and bogged down by everything else happening in the film, making many scenes dedicated to the conflict feel weak and manufactured. The record company conflict narrative is important and somewhat under-explored in modern-day filmmaking, especially regarding hip-hop artists. But again, the film presents such surface-level commentary on the situation that its inclusion often feels redundant and stale. All these ideas make for an entertaining film, as the fast-paced storylines always keep your attention hooked, but Jamojaya falls thematically short.

Regardless, when the story’s emotional beats hit, they hit hard. A couple of interactions between James and Joyo are emotionally devastating, specifically as the film reaches its climax. Immanuel’s and Unru’s performances elevate these scenes even further, as the two’s chemistry successfully increases the intensity between their characters. All this proves that Jamojaya has the tools to resonate in a much more striking fashion. It just needs a longer runtime or a larger focus on a single narrative to make that happen. (

Author rating: 5.5/10

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