MovieChat Forums > Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling (1986) Discussion > Good movie that came out at the wrong ti...

Good movie that came out at the wrong time

I was watching this movie yesterday and while it has flaws, it is mostly a raw, honest movie with Pryor hitting dramatically places he would rarely go, at least in his non-concert films. The film itself is surprisingly well-done for a first-time director with the flashbacks and abrupt cutting mostly working to enhance both the narrative structure as well as JoJo's scattershot view of his life and emotions. I think the movie was ignored probably because it came out in the middle of the slick 80's, when even the most dramatic films had a coat of gloss and melodrama to them. It's raw nature and slightly experimental quality (outside of the awkward R&B pop song in the opening and closing credits) makes it more in line with 70's or 90's cinema than the 80's. Had it come out in 1979 or 1992 I think it would have been better received. Just my thoughts but it was a pleasant surprise to watch this undiscovered gem since it has a LOT more depth than the stuff that came out around it at the time.


Very well stated. Today celebrities score big with intensely personal, confessional films and stage productions, but the mid-'80s were the era of escapist film fare like "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Back to the Future." This film seemed to come out of nowhere, even though Richard Pryor had addressed his near-death experience onstage and the "Live at the Sunset Strip" album. These types of productions fluorished in the '60s and '70s, as well as in the '90s, with the popularity of performance art and independent film. But the decade in the middle was one of fashion, gloss and, in many senses, denial.

In addition, this film didn't seem to get the promotion it deserved and was treated as more of a vanity piece. The unwieldy title, name of the lead character, and obscuring of certain details didn't help either. Because this is clearly autobiographical, with a few flourishes and revisions probably ordered by the legal department, why put "Jo Jo Dancer" in the title?

This is a haunting, heartfelt work from an artist who generally resisted serious introspection, and it's too bad it's been largely ignored and forgotten. The scenes with the grandmother and the frequent shots of Jo Jo staring forlornly from his hospital bed are particularly touching.


I'm a HUGE Pryor fan (probably my fave stand-up ever), and have been for years.
Yet I only yesterday found out that this film existed (FREE on Xbox live). I thought I had seen everything he had done.

Yeah it's a little rough and Pryor would never win an Oscar for his directing. But it's a hell of a great flick.
For the last few years I've been saying someone should do a Pryor biopic, trying to think of who could play the great man effectivley...not knowing he had (sort of) already done one himself...and a good one too.

This should be HDed up and re-released in memory of one of the best comedians that ever lived. Maybe a second run will get people to notice this underrated film?

Really happy I "discovered" this film after so many years of not knowing it existed.

Jesus died for our sins. As he's already dead...sin away.


There was hope when Indigo Productions finally got its act together enough to make a “proper’ feature film, the blatantly autobiographical Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling (1986). Co-written, produced, and directed by Pryor, Jo Jo Dancer is so clearly about the comic’s own life that it was barely worth inventing a new name for the protagonist. Told from the mystically omniscient vantage point of a literally burnt-out comedian, swathed in bandages in a hospital bed after setting himself ablaze while freebasing cocaine, Jo Jo Dancer sees its eponymous hero (Pryor) retrace the steps of his life, and pay ghostly visits to his younger self at key episodes in his development. Many of Pryor’s character-forming experiences, familiar to us from his stand-up routines, are recreated in Jo Jo Dancer: growing up in a whorehouse, his first faltering steps into showbiz, the move to Berkeley, the breakdowns. But for a movie so close to its creator’s heart, it lacks any of the fire (metaphorically speaking) and passion that Pryor himself had already brought to these episodes when recounting them on stage. It is a curiously empty and detached film, ultimately drowning in its own pious solemnity.

Perhaps the worst thing about Jo Jo Dancer is Pryor himself. In what should have been a primal scream of a performance, a fusion of the electrifying power of his best stand-up with the howling demons that dogged him off-screen and offstage, the actor instead gives an awkward, largely poker-faced turn, occasionally hitting the high notes but generally looking lost in his own movie. There is little spirit or energy in his recreations of the routines that made his name — he simply goes through the motions, something which prompted the great Pauline Kael to say, “If I’d never seen Richard Pryor before, I couldn’t have guessed — based on what Jo Jo does here — that he has an excitable greatness in him.” The disturbing truth of Jo Jo Dancer is that it confirms that Pryor’s excitable greatness had vanished. All we see is the laundered Pryor of 1986 trying to imitate the wild, wired, and reckless Pryor of a decade earlier — and as in Here and Now, it’s an act he could no longer pull off.

Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling failed critically and commercially upon release. All that can be said about it now is that it does give us one last glimpse of a Richard Pryor who in some way resembled — physically at least — his old self. But all this would change in the months that followed.