First time director Alice Wu may have a hit on her hands, Saving Face is already getting comparable buzz to that titan of independent film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but that may be a bit misleading. This film seems a little more complex, a little more thought out, a bit more innovative, and when I tell you it’s about Asian lesbians, well that seals the deal doesn’t it?
Of course, the above statement is one of the huge things working against the film. The breadth and scope, making a film across cultural and sexual divides is going to turn some people off. Additionally the tagline of “Asian Lesbians” is easy to saddle a film with and not realize the amazing effort Ms. Wu has put into these characters, the life and joy she has given to this work. This film is biting off a huge amount, but if it does become that “hit” it will say a ton about our growth as an American movie culture.
Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen are wonderful as the female leads that are falling for each other. As with standard formulaic romantic comedies one pursues while one needs to be pursued but both actors are completely at ease in their roles. One casting misstep could have destroyed this film, so kudos for casting two dynamic leads. Surrounding the gals are a large assortment of Chinese relatives, the most prominent is the mother of Michelle’s character (Wilomenia) played by Joan Chen. You may remember her from Judge Dredd. Oh, you don’t? No, me neither. But she’s great here as a mom doing her darndest to ruin her beloved daughter’s life.
At its core Saving Face is about change, compromise and the expectations of relationships. Cultural clashes, generational conflict, and sexual confusion mark the film when it’s hitting on all cylinders. As a viewer you’re constantly being asked to measure what is being gained and lost in each scene. When must Michelle show respect and when can she let loose? Is her duty as a faithful daughter or as a girlfriend? Where do these loyalties lie when the chips are down? When you love someone, what can you forgive, what can you accept? There are a bunch of themes going on under the hood.
One day this will be considered a normal film, it’s in this era it seems innovative. It’s a truly funny film with heart, and when people nod their head and know it’s not a film about lesbians, or the Chinese, but rather a film about relationships of all assortments perhaps we can sit back and call Saving Face what it really is; the best romantic comedy of the year.