By Ben Hector | Drama
A sports-mom tries to keep her daughter on track despite her growing independence.

Jo is a single mother, raising her 16-year-old daughter Rosie and serving also as her badminton coach.

But Rosie is at an age where she starts to strike out on her own, wanting to make her own decisions, leading to an unexpected collision between an increasingly independent daughter and a mother who seems to have given up everything for her.

Writer-director Ben Hector’s short drama is a study of a dysfunctional parent-child relationship. Quiet, observational and even almost minimalistic in style, the film is attuned to the small psychological currents swirling between mother and daughter, and how those small wrinkles of tension can escalate into larger, more cataclysmic conflicts.

The film begins with Jo at work at the bank she’s employed at, being railroaded by a customer and trying to accommodate his anger. But as the film proceeds, the audience watches as Jo exerts her authority and sovereignty in another area of her life: as coach to her athletic daughter Rosie.

The crux of “Jo” are its terrific performances, especially in the crucial roles of mother and daughter. Lead actor Emma Keele has the task of playing the difficult role of manipulative mother Jo, but her quietly contained, resonant performance is able to hint at the hidden tensions and buried feelings that often unconsciously drive her. It is difficult to watch a parent hurt a child, however unintentional or well-meaning, but Keele makes Jo understandable, even quietly tragic, even as she betrays Rosie in a hidden yet powerful way.

Young actor Fabienne Piolini-Castle plays Jo’s daughter Rosie with precision, able to capture both a tricky moment in any young person’s life when she asserts her independence, while balancing a still very active need to please and listen to her mother and coach. Rosie has her own inner conflicts, and they drive her in ways that cause her to clash with Jo and pull away from her. Jo reacts with an unexpected yet cataclysmic choice, asserting her control but driving a wedge between her and her daughter.

“Jo” may seem a quiet film on its surface, with its understated dialogue, soft, often luminous cinematography and simple, grounded camerawork. But it’s emotionally explosive under its surface, an intimate look at the symbiosis between a parent and child, and how that relationship can curdle when the parent, unconsciously or otherwise, displaces feelings of dissatisfaction and unfulfillment elsewhere, instead of confronting them head-on. It ends on an uneasy note, both for the small family at the core of the film and for the audience, which has watched how seeds of family alienation can be planted at the most smallest, most shadowy moments in life.

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