I’m not revealing too much of the ‘twist’ of the film, because Jo’s lack of corporeal presence is revealed fairly early on and much of the film is about how Claire handles the possibility that she might be going mad. This is not “The Sixth Sense” with a whiplash ending that makes you rewatch the movie, its more “The Lovely Bones” from the perspective of one of the girls from “Perks of Being a Wallflower.” As Claire tries to distance herself from Jo, she must come to terms with her mother’s history and what put her in a mental home. Claire is also not sure she wants to give up her invisible friend. Her world was already sparse, losing her father has left a giant void with nothing else to fill it.
One of JOSEPHINE DOE’s lovely gifts as a screenplay is that Claire finds her own happiness. And it comes entirely from within – of course it looks like it coming from someone else, because Jo provides her the opportunity for change, but Jo isn’t really there, so Claire is the one affecting her own situation through the visage of Jo. The ending leaves the audience with no doubt that Claire is going to find her way through this, even if her solution may satisfy no one but herself.
At 72 minutes, the film falls a tad short of reaching that discovery, mainly because it never quite answers the question of ‘what to do with Jo?’ Even if Claire has come to a certain understanding of why Jo appeared and what to do about it, her sister and her sister’s family get tied up a little too easily based on Claire’s actions and the family history. The film is also shot in my least favorite style — ‘inexplicable black and white’ — which always seems to do more to hide the budget than add anything artistically to the film. In fact, the scenes with Jo could really have used a vivid color pallet to match the vitality she brings. That said, JOSEPHINE DOE is one of the most insightful portraits of family trauma I’ve seen in a while. The cast is uniformly strong, the script subtle, and the pacing flawless.
JOSEPHINE DOE made its premiere at Cinequest and played Dances With Films last week. It is currently playing festivals and distribution has not yet been announced.