Because it's playing in the art house circuit and most of the dialogue is Chinese, Saving Face isn't going to make a dime. Too bad: It's a pleasant romantic comedy (produced by Will Smith) with a few tweaks thrown in: a lesbian couple here, a pregnant 48-year-old there. The movie gives the formula a good shake, without being faux edgy or having the charm fall to the bottom.
Wil (Michelle Krusiec) is a young surgeon not feeling New York's liberal vibe. Her widowed mother (a long-lost Joan Chen) hounds Wil to find a husband, working her circuit of gossipy Chinese friends to find suitors. For Wil, a lesbian, it's a waste of time except that in her tradition-abiding family, she must do what is expected.
Turns out her mom doesn't practice what she preaches. Pregnant and thrown out of the house by her shamed father, the mother-to-be invades Wil's apartment. As mom is decorating the living room and cleaning out the refrigerator, Wil gets a crush on Vivian (Lynn Chen), her boss's beautiful daughter. Flirting blooms into a full-blown relationship and soon Wil and her mom face a life-altering moment: Do they save face and do what's considered "right" in their exported culture, or do they make themselves happy?
The movie is strongest when dealing with the angles of this question, such as Wil's decision to stay the night at Vivian's, or her mother going on a series of appropriate dates with losers and weirdoes, while her illicit love waits and wants. The real poignancy in director Alice Wu's script -- which floats above some repetitive moments and misplaced speeches --is how both women lead the same life, though neither would admit it. Their network of family and friends is so obtrusive and judgmental that neither woman can live her own life. Wil is afraid of being herself; her mother's life is so restricted that, to her, leaving Queens is a journey that would intimidate Columbus. Krusiec and Joan Chen excel at bringing out their characters' uncertainty, while Lynn Chen's winning performance makes Wil's decision that much harder.
In its examination of the mother-daughter dynamic, Saving Face could be compared to The Joy Luck Club. The big difference is that Saving Face is far sunnier; its lessons are cushioned by a chuckle, a twist, and a neat homage to The Graduate. In her feature debut, Wu shows romantic comedies can be more than a Cole Porter soundtrack and snappy comebacks. They can offer a different ethnicity, the same sex, and an issue or two to consider.
The DVD adds a director's commentary, deleted scenes, and two behind-the-scenes vignettes.
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