Saving Face

Director: Alice Wu

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

First-time director Alice Wu already seems a polished, refined filmmaker with the romantic comedy Saving Face (2004) set within a traditional Chinese family in New York City. Michelle Krusied plays Wilhemina or Wil, a New York City physician who evades the machinations of her mother (Joan Chen) to get her 28 year old "old maid" daughter married off. How can Wil tell Ma she's involved with dancer Vivian Lu (Lynn Chen)?

The relationship between mother & daughter is the most important one in the film. Widowed Ma at age 48 has managed to get herself pregnant & won't tell anyone who the father is. So Ma's father, a survivor of the Cultural Revolution in China, disowns her until she can return to the family married.

So she leaves Flushing & shows up unexpectedly in New York to move in & pretty much take over her daughter's apartment. A dutiful daughter dares not refuse her mother, so Wil turns into Ma's private dating service unleashing a series of unlikely candidates on her, proving herself no more sensible at matchmaking than Ma in setting up her daughter.

Joan Chen has long been an actor I've admired, yet many of her past roles were as Exotic Babe, Adventure Babe, Wicked Babe, or just Woohoo Babe. As she approached middle-age, the youthful hotty roles dried up & it became harder & harder to see her in anything; indeed, there was a four year hiatus in her film career before she made a come-back being cast older in Saving Face. Having scored additional fine roles in the wake of Alice Wu's film, it looks like Chen's second career may turn out more artful & interesting than her first, mature in both senses of the word.

Though there are plenty of humorous moments, this is a light & pleasant drama of generational conflict, as well as of change within the Chinese American community at large. The lesbian love story between Wil & Vivian takes a back seat to the bigger story of Ma & Wil, but the love story is itself charming & sweet.

That Vivian's mother is totally supportive of her daughter is something Wil envies. That Wil is not "out" to hardly anyone & will not acknowledge Vivian publicly, but only in private, is something that hurts Vivian & which Wil has to work through.

Plot-wise this is unfortunately standard fare. How to continue one's gay affair while not letting on to either mom or dad even if one of them moves in is the theme of half a dozen films of recent vintage. An out gay individual with a closety lover is even more ordinary in the cinematic literature that seems to have only two or three stories it wants to tell about homosexuality.

But the authentic background of the Chinese American community lends the hoary tale greater interest, & the acting is topnotch. By the end it is so upbeat as to be moronic, but in this cynical world, sometimes a touch of mindless idealizing makes for a fun pretense.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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