‘Jamojaya’ review: rapper Rich Brian navigates the perils of pop stardom

The Indonesian rapper makes his acting debut in this familiar tale of an exploited young talent

As the rapper Rich Brian, Brian Imanuel is already a star in his native Indonesia and a familiar face in US hip-hop. But for his first feature film, he plays the greenhorn. His acting debut, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week, is a fresh look at the pitfalls of early fame.

Imanuel stars as aspiring rapper James, who’s fired his father Joyo from being his manager on an Indonesian TV show and is hosted by his record company at a luxury beachfront home in Hawaii to help clear his head while making his first album. Joyo, played heartbreakingly by Indonesian cinema legend Yayu Unru, turns up in Hawaii anyway just as James meets label bosses at a swanky restaurant. He’s treated with disdain by his tough American manager Shannon (Kate Lyn Sheil, She Dies Tomorrow) and we soon learn that Joyo, who James finds embarrassing as he cleans up spilt drinks and acts like a waiter, is perhaps the only person who genuinely cares for him.

Jamojaya’s focus on the backstage life of a star making videos, recording in the studio and having meetings as he attempts to balance the trappings of success with the grounded, homely advice of his father, is an interesting one. Part of Joyo’s devotion to James is due to the loss of his other son, who died in the MH370 Malaysia Airlines plane crash. It’s not uncommon to see a parent overcompensate when losing a child, lavishing all their attention on their remaining kid – and who could blame them after such devastation?

Yaya Unru in ‘Jamojaya’. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Ante Cheng
Yaya Unru in ‘Jamojaya’. CREDIT: Ante Cheng


Regardless of Joyo’s eccentric ways – he always seems to have a bag of fresh, self-picked fruit, for one thing – he asks fair questions about who pays for the huge, opulent house they are staying in and if he seems suspicious about the record label bosses, these are well-founded: James’s producer Vic (a friend of Joyo) is sacked against his wishes and James eventually gives away his publishing rights after Joyo pushes untrustworthy CEO Michael into a swimming pool.

Jamojaya has some fine performances, with Unru, Imanuel and Sheil particularly good and even Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis turning up on good form as a mean music video director. But authenticity and screen presence can only get you so far. Director and co-writer Justin Chon’s film is not saying anything new here, just presenting it slightly abstractly with brief flashbacks (and flash-forwards) alongside Joyo’s unusual tree and plant-based rituals.

From A Star is Born to Vox Lux and even Machine Gun Kelly movie Taurus, the perils of pop stardom have often been mined as a source of big screen entertainment. There is obviously an appetite for this kind of story. Just don’t expect to have your mind blown.


  • Director: Justin Chon
  • Starring: Brian Imanuel, Yayu Unru, Kate Lyn Sheil
  • Release date: TBC

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