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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 9.Jun.24

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir-scr Sean Wang
prd Valerie Bush, Carlos Lopez Estrada, Josh Peters, Vertel Scott
with Izaac Wang, Joan Chen, Shirley Chen, Zhang Li Hua, Mahaela Park, Raul Dial, Aaron Chang, Chiron Cillia Denk, Sunil Maurillo, Montay Boseman, Alysha Syed, Alaysia Simmons
release US 26.Jul.24,
UK 2.Aug.24
24/US 1h34

sundancelondon film fest

Is it streaming?

wang and park
Clearly autobiographical in nature, this teen drama isn't quite a coming-of-age movie, but writer-director Sean Wang refreshingly creates complex moments while making sharply pointed observations. So while this may be the usual collection of comically awkward and painfully embarrassing adolescent events, it also has several lovely things to say about generational issues in immigrant families. It may feel somewhat familiar, but there's a freshness to the approach.
It's 2008 in Northern California, and teen Chris (Izaac Wang) bickers endlessly with his older sister Vivian (Shirley Chen), annoying their mother (Joan Chen) and grandmother (Zhang). But Chris is also tired of being teased by his best pal Fahad (Dial) and others in their group, especially as he shyly pursues his crush on Madi (Park). Meeting older skater Donovan (Denk) and his crew offers a chance for reinvention, but there's a question about how long Chris can bluff his way through new situations by watching YouTube videos. And each setback makes him feel more alone.
Honest conversations pepper the film, including some painfully harsh exchanges between friends and family members that make Chris (and us) squirm. The frequency of these shouting matches makes the movie feel rather heightened, but there are deeper things going on that hold the attention. And Wang throws in inventive visuals and directorial touches that liven things up, offering further insight into this teen's scrambled state of mind.

As Chris, Wang has a likeable presence that encourages us to root for him, even when he's doing something that's clumsy or downright excruciating. We wince at the bad decisions he makes about his relationships, but the actor offers reason to hope that he will eventually find his way. Joan Chen is simply wonderful as his mother, while Shirley Chen and Zhang create strong moments that are all their own. As do the performers playing his various friends.

The film's earthy rhythms are so authentic that we don't much mind the fact that we've seen these observations about puberty, ethnicity and aspirations in other movies. The offbeat details in the characters and the layers of meaning keep things sparky, while the gurgling emotions in each relationship are beautifully played to resonate in unexpected ways. It definitely marks Wang as a filmmaker to watch.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 5.Jun.24

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir-scr Patrick Dickinson
prd Gabrielle Tana, Kosuke Oshida, Carolyn Marks Blackwood, Helene Theodoly
with Lily Franky, Ryo Nishikido, Tae Kimura, Rin Takanashi, Ciaran Hinds, Aoife Hinds, Kosei Kudo, Yuri Tsunematsu, Hanii Hashimoto, Isy Suttie, Thomas Coombes, Yuri Kobayashi
release US 7.Jun.24
23/UK 1h34

Is it streaming?

nishikido and franky
Gently observational, this finely made film opens in Tokyo before following an inexpressive father and son to England on a momentous journey. The narrative is meandering, but it's also deeply introspective, tapping into things people neglect to say as they conceal their emotions. Writer-director Patrick Dickinson has a terrific eye for detail, and the cast beautifully underplays the drama, which makes it very easy to identify with the feelings.
Grieving widower Kenzaburo (Franky) wallows in his memories, creating further distance between him and his adult son Toshi (Nishikido). Then he learns that his late wife Akiko (Kimura in flashbacks) wanted her ashes to be scattered in Britain's Lake District, which she longed to visit due to her love of Beatrix Potter's stories. So they head to London, accompanied by Toshi's wife (Takanashi) and young daughter (Hashimoto). But they clash about their plans, and Kenzaburo sets off on his own. Lost, he gets help from farmer John and his daughter Mary (Ciaran and Aoife Hinds).
Extended back-story sequences show the young aspiring writer Kenzaburo (Kudo) and Akiko (Tsunematsu) as they meet and become close, playfully bonding over Akiko's love of rabbits. Later, Kenzaburo patiently accompanies Akiko through her frightening medical treatment, worried that she might become a burden to her family. And then there's the experience Kenzaburo shares with John, who lost his wife as well and helps Kenzaburo understand that maybe he and his son still need each other.

The always-engaging Franky is excellent as a man who simply refuses to reveal what he thinks, stubbornly doing his own thing without listening to anyone. Much of his actions are an effort to avoid burdening Toshi, but pushing him away doesn't actually make things better. Nishikido is also terrific as the patient, frustrated Toshi. And Kimura's wrenchingly powerful performance as Akiko adds remarkable textures to the family dynamic.

There are quite a few painful scenes along the way, especially in the depiction of the later stages of Akiko's debilitating illness. Misunderstandings are very difficult to watch, as they show the lack of communication between people who love each other. So the film almost feels like a love letter from one repressed nation to another, celebrating the healing that comes from opening up and sharing even our most uncomfortable truths.

cert 12 themes, language 6.Jan.24

My Old Ass  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5   MUST must see SEE
My Old Ass
dir-scr Megan Park
prd Tom Ackerley, Josey McNamara, Steven Rales, Margot Robbie
with Maisy Stella, Aubrey Plaza, Percy Hynes White, Kerrice Brooks, Maddie Ziegler, Maria Dizzia, Alain Goulem, Seth Isaac Johnson, Carter Trozzolo, Alexandria Rivera
release UK Jun.24 sfl,
US 2.Aug.24
24/Canada MGM 1h28

sundancelondon film fest

Is it streaming?

stella and plaza
Rippling with authenticity, the dialog in this comedy-drama continually resonates, encouraging the audience to think deeply about things we take for granted. Writer-director Megan Park skilfully crafts a witty story that's packed with fully rounded characters who are hugely likeable even if they're imperfect. And with a wacky touch of hallucinogenic magic, the script finds a fresh new path into the coming-of-age genre that never feels simplistic or sentimental.
On a lake in Ontario, Elliott (Stella) is camping on an island with pals Ro and Ruthie (Brooks and Ziegler), unaware that her parents (Dizzia and Goulem) have planned a surprise 18th birthday party. Around the campfire, the girls make tea from some iffy mushrooms, and Elliott is visited by herself at age 39 (Plaza). She's horrified at the thought of being so old, and the older Elliott's only advice is to stay clear of Chad (White). But even though she has a girlfriend (Rivera), Elliott is intrigued by this cute, almost too-nice guy.
Continuing to communicate by phone, the two Elliotts engage in sparky banter as the younger questions why the older one is so cagey about details. But young Elliott follows advice to stop being in such a hurry to escape the family's generational cranberry farm, and to enjoy spending time with her parents and her annoying younger brothers (Johnson and Trozzolo). All of these connections take journeys through the course of the film, as Elliott begins to open herself to the world around her.

Even smaller roles are strikingly detailed, so the various relationships feel fully formed and evolving. In her first feature role, Stella radiates charisma as the fiercely intelligent, thoughtful and determined Elliott, a young woman who has no idea what she wants to do with her life other than to move to the big city and start over. Her interaction with the always superbly wry Plaza is snappy and surprising in the way it entertains and moves us. And her scenes with White are thoroughly endearing.

Adding to the film's tone is the gorgeous setting, shot by cinematographer Kristen Correll to reveal natural beauty as well as connections between the people and the place itself. So the way Elliott wildly swerves as she pilots her boat across the lake tells us a lot about her. And while the older Elliott reminds her younger self not to be so naive and simple, younger Elliott also has a few things to teach her older self about remembering how it feels to fully experience every day.

cert 15 themes, language 8.Jun.24 sfl

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