Her Name Was Jo Image

Her Name Was Jo

By Josiah Teal | April 12, 2021

Her Name Was Jo follows 10-year old Jo (Mary Cate Williams), who, after the death of her abusive stepfather, embarks on a journey from Virginia to Los Angeles in search of her biological father. Accompanied only by her best friend Selma (Eliza Duca), Jo battles drug dealers, personal demons, and isolation in this Thelma & Louisemeets-Room drama. Writer-director Joe Duca tells a story of friendship, freedom, and growing up through its captivating and fresh take of life on the run.

Told through the eyes of Jo, a young girl with an abusive past, the film begins by establishing the friendship between Jo and Selma while displaying the daily abuse at the hands of her stepfather, Bill (Jim Constable). After Bill dies of a drug overdose, Jo takes the opportunity to escape her life in the Shenandoah Valley in hopes of a life with her biological father, folk singer Johnny Alvarez (Robert Hardin). With only a CD of her father’s music as her guide, Jo and Selma dump the body, steal a car, get kidnapped by drug dealers, and wander the streets of Las Vegas in search of life beyond abuse and freedom in the “City of Angels.”

“…after the death of her abusive stepfather, [Jo] embarks on a journey…in search of her biological father.”

Her Name Was Jo features an outstanding and nuanced performance by May Cate Williams as Jo. Throughout the film, Williams conveys complex feelings of loss, hopelessness, and bittersweet nostalgia through not only her dialogue but also moments of silence. Duca puts care into every frame of the film depicting beautiful, soaring shots of nature throughout the girls’ journey. He also brings the narrative right into the girls’ conversations, creating authentic and very human moments.

My biggest highlight of Her Name Was Jo was the tonal shifts in organic and meaningful scenes, such as when Jo rescued her kidnappers’ pregnant girlfriend. The part when she shows off her scars around the campfire is another highlight. To avoid spoilers, just know that Jo’s poignant moment at the climax is sublime. Throughout the film, Duca shows his ability to write moments of intensity, heartbreak, and even beauty during times of tragedy. These scenes of complex emotion are complimented perfectly by the cast’s ability to breathe further life into already-strong characters.

I completely enjoyed my experience viewing Her Name Was Jo. I was more than successfully manipulated by this film. I felt the adrenaline when Jo fled her captors, cried when she showed her scars, and laughed at her and Selma’s moments of just being kids. There are moments in the film that tend to linger a little long. However, beyond such minor issues, Her Name Was Jo is an excellent journey of compelling characters tossed into the worst of circumstances.

Her Name Was Jo (2020)

Directed and Written: Joe Duca

Starring: Mary Cate Williams, Eliza Duca, Jim Constable, Daniel Duca, Brenda Lorena Garcia, Robert Hardin, Nicole Naccash, etc.

Movie score: 9.5/10

Her Name Was Jo Image

"…captivating and fresh take of life on the run. "

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  1. Franklin says:

    Although this movie had a great review, there was so much missing that it didn’t give that finality that a film should. In her memories, Jo’s mom was pregnant. There was a scene in her memories where she seemed lost or abandoned, what was the link there? Where did this imaginary Selma come from, why was she in a leg brace, etc. You can imagine Selma was imaginary because she never went anywhere, to another home, or anything. Why weren’t the authorities looking for Jo when they found the trailer empty or the bloated body. Although many point out the great acting of the little girl, I wouldn’t recommend this movie at all.

  2. wendy says:

    Is this movie based on a true story?

  3. Johnnie Koch Deatherage. Female says:

    I had heartfelt love for this show. I have looked for my father. I cried at scenes of LA and Pacific Ocean. I had my Mother all my life till she died at age 79. Never could meet my father!! This movie really was wall written cast and directed. I just saw it. Drying my tears. ❤️❤️

  4. Brent says:

    So was Elisa an imaginary friend?

  5. Jennifer says:

    I liked the film but missed why Selma couldn’t go into the shelter too

  6. Cheri Farina says:

    What happened to Jo’s mother and was that really her biological father or not that she met?

  7. Kirby says:

    At the end when Jo went in the shelter without Selma there was scenes from the past where both girl were originally together but Jo was alone. Was Selma an imaginary friend?

    • Brent says:

      Definitely an imaginary friend

    • mbrowne says:

      Seems like there should have been some hints about that during the film. ‘Cuz if so, was it a girl she’d known and lost? Completely made up?

      • Alicia says:

        There were clues. Like Selma not having on a mask when the step dad started to smell. And when the kidnapper girlfriend was paying attention to Jo only. And when Selma disappeared at the “dad’s” house but showed back up at the beach. There may have been more I missed.

      • Steve says:

        I agree. I didn’t get it that Selma was imaginary… I am still not sure though the clues I guess were there.. My stupid..
        The director could have been less coy about it unless he wanted to make another Sixth Sense, gotcha movie.
        I find the movie even sadder now that I realize Joe was alone all the time…

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