Saving Face (2004)

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In writer/director Alice Wu’s inter-generational family comedy Saving Face, Michelle Krusiec plays Wil (short for Wilhelmina), a medical resident without much time for a life let alone romance. The only social life Wil seems to have is at Chinese-American gatherings in Queens where people try to set her up available young Chinese-American men.

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However, Wil has a secret. She’s a lesbian. And at one of these gatherings she meets Vivian (Lynn Chen), another lesbian who is also a dancer. Sparks fly between the two women, and slowly their flirtation turns into a romance. However, Wil isn’t quite ready to come out to her family so the romance has to remain a secret much to Vivian’s chagrin (and it doesn’t help that Vivian’s father is also Wil’s boss at the hospital).

In Saving Face, Wil’s mother (Joan Chen) also has a secret, but it won’t stay a secret for long. She’s in her forties, widowed, living with her parents…and pregnant. And she’s not exactly too forthcoming on the man who fathered her child.

Bringing shame onto the family name, Wil’s mother (known as Ma) is kicked out of her parent’s home. Knowing nowhere to turn, she ends up on Wil’s doorstep, and Wil takes her mother in, wondering how she’s going to keep her romance with Vivian a secret and deal with Ma’s impending late in life motherhood.

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As Ma’s belly grows, Wil learns more about her mother, seeing her more as a flesh and blood woman with her own desires and needs. However, this doesn’t exactly inspire Wil to come clean to her mother, and she tries furtively to keep her relationship with Vivian a secret. To be knocked up out of wedlock is one thing; to be a lesbian is quite another. What will the neighbors think? Actually, it’s one of Wil’s neighbors who tries to get her to face herself and Ma.

But will this happen soon enough? When Vivian announces she’s been offered a chance to dance in Paris, Wil realizes she needs to make a decision. Come clean, and admit her romance with Vivian, or remain closeted and let Vivian go. In other words, save face (yet lose someone she truly cares about).

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And Ma must also make some major decisions. One is opening up about who’s the father of her child, a man that superficially, might not seem suitable. And this decision must be made soon before Ma makes the disastrous mistake of marrying someone she doesn’t love just to give her unborn child a name.

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Saving Face examines how we balance the old world (when Wil is with her grandparents she speaks in Mandarin) with a “modern society” (unplanned pregnancy, homosexuality and careerism). And in like any other family, the families in Saving Face are flawed, yet loving. Saving Face may remind viewers of the sleeper hit My Big, Fat Greek Wedding. And though Saving Face is a bit predictable, its good performances and sweet charm make it worthwhile viewing.

I Watch It So You Don’t Have To: Intern (2000)*

 

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If any industry seems perfect for satire and parody it’s fashion, especially the rarefied world of fashion magazines. Fashion doyennes decide where our hemlines will be this season with the same seriousness as preparing military readiness in the Middle East. Bulimia and anorexia are considered virtues. And Botox is as necessary as air and water. Ugly Betty was a successful television sitcom immersed in the world of fashion, and The Devil Wears Prada was a huge smash, so I had big hopes for the indie movie Intern. Sadly, Intern turned out to be as big of a Glamour fashion don’t as see-through jeans and pretty much every outfit you see on the Kardashians.

Dominique Swain plays Jocelyn Bennett, an intern at the fashion magazine Skirt. Jocelyn is apparently a photographer, though you never once see her take a picture, and she is fan of Skirt’s innovative layouts and photography. Sadly, in the brief moments we get to see Skirt, the actual magazine, you wonder if the layout was done by a third-grader on Power Point back in 1998. Yes, I know this movie was low budget, but you think someone could have tried a bit harder.

When Jocelyn isn’t making copies, faxing, running errands and cleaning up Skirt staffers’ desks, she’s pining away for the magazine’s art director, Paul Rochester (Ben Pullen). Paul is a fashion magazine rarity, a straight man. And he’s also allegedly related to Prince Charles. Paul is very fond of Jocelyn but at the moment he is involved with a bitch-on-heels fashion model named Resin (Leilani Bishop).

As Intern begins we find out a Skirt insider has been selling Skirt’s secrets to rival magazine. Jocelyn figures finding out who this insider is just might make her a hero at the magazine, and she goes about trying to find out which fashionista has betrayed Skirt. This also gives her a chance to get closer to Paul. Of course, mayhem ensues, blah, blah, blah. But by the time the movie reaches its dénouement, we really aren’t that invested.

I should have known this movie was going to be crap when it began with a cringe-worthy musical number. Most of the observances of the fashion industry, like when an editor makes herself vomit after finding out the milk in her coffee is 2%, not skim, fall flat. The dialogue is clunky, and when Paul tells Jocelyn that she has the whole world inside of her I audibly groaned. A majority of the performances are wooden; only Kathy Griffin as Cornelia managed to get a laugh out of me.

A lot of blame also belongs on Swain whose acting in Intern is amateurish. At times she rushes through her lines and she has no comedic skills. Her Jocelyn is supposed to be the heroine but in the end you don’t care about her and her future at Skirt. Plus, if Jocelyn is supposed to be so much in fashion why does she dress like such a frump?

A lot of fashion designers and other fashion insiders make cameos playing themselves, and I have to admit that I did have fun naming them. “Hey, there’s Diane von Furstenberg!” “Hey, is that Simon Doonan?” And Vogue editor-at-large, Andre Leon Talley seems to have the ability to poke fun at himself.

Sadly, those cameos can’t make up for a dimwitted film. Intern was written by Caroline Doyle and Jill Kopelman, two women who claimed to have worked at fashion magazines. Buddhist monks could have written a better script. If you want to watch the fashion magazine industry skewered to great effect, you are better off staying home and binge watching Ugly Betty.

*Not to be confused with the 2015 movie The Intern starring Ann Hathaway and Robert DeNiro.

In a Day (2006)

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In the charming and low-key British romantic comedy In a Day, Lorraine Pilkington plays Ashley. By day Ashley works at a London sandwich shop. She’s a fledgling pianist and singer, and the sandwich shop gig is supposed to just fill in the gaps as she gets the gigs that will lead to musical success.

One morning, while waiting for a bus, Ashley is verbally accosted by another commuter. The conversation starts innocently enough. The man asks her about the book she is reading, a book on jazz. Then he asks her about going back to her place for a quick shag. Not interested in having a booty call with a complete stranger, Ashley declines his advances. This does not sit well with the stranger and he begins to harass Ashley calling her horrible names, and finishing his rant by throwing his cup of coffee on her.

Moments later, Ashley is approached by an appealing young man named Michael (Finlay Robertson). He’s a frequent customer at the sandwich shop. To make her feel better about being assaulted, Michael offers to take Ashley out to lunch. Thinking her day can’t get any worse, Ashley decides to take Michael up on his offer.

Michael and Ashley end up at a pricey restaurant. Ashley enjoys the meal and realizes she also enjoys Michael’s company. Their “date” does not end once Michael picks up the check. He still wants to treat Ashley further so he buys her a nice outfit from a pricey boutique, and he also treats her to a new haircut at an upscale salon.

Ashley is touched by Michael’s kindness and generosity, but can’t help but wonder why a near stranger would be so nice to her. And when Michael later tells her that he’s actually pampering her on behalf of someone’s request, Ashley is further confused.

Lunch, new clothes, and a haircut aren’t Ashley and Michael’s only adventures. They visit to Michael’s sister’s home to wish her a happy birthday. Unfortunately, Michael’s sister is a sourpuss who can’t appreciate anything, and you can feel Michael and Ashley’s discomfort during the entire conversation.

But later things brighten up when Ashley mentions a musician friend of hers in need of a new saxophone. Michael agrees to buy Ashley’s friend the new saxophone, and the friend is overwhelmed by their generosity. This visit also gives a chance for Ashley to show off her skills and a pianist and singer, and Michael is truly impressed.

Ashley is still baffled by this mystery man and why he’s being so nice. And when Michael finally owns up to why she deserved to be pampered, Ashley is shocked and doesn’t quite know what to make of Michael’s confession, which brings up bad memories of her childhood. She’s upset, but will she be willing to let go of the past? At the end, we get the idea that maybe, just maybe Ashley can.

In a Day (written and directed by newcomer Evan Richards), goes at a leisurely pace but is never boring. Both Pilkington and Robertson are both very appealing in their roles. Rose Keegan nearly steals the show as Finlay’s shrewish sister, and gives great insight on his psyche. If you’re looking for a sweet little film that is a good escape from the real world and all the depressing news but isn’t the usual rom-com you can’t go wrong with In a Day.