A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the movie focuses on intergenerational tensions in a Chinese-American family, stemming from two primary difficulties: an immigrant father rejects his 48-year-old daughter when she becomes pregnant and won't name the baby's father; the granddaughter, a NYC surgeon, hides her lesbian relationship with a dancer, out of fear that her mother and grandparents won't "understand." The film features emotional discussions of relationships, artful images of lesbian sex, and a charming black bisexual neighbor who gives Wil advice and watches soap operas with Ma.
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What's the story?
Ma (Joan Chen), lives with her mother (Guang Lan Koh) and father Wai Gung (Jin Wang) in Flushing, Queens. She's also mother to 28-year-old Wilhelmina (Michelle Krusiec). A dedicated surgeon, Wil is also a dutiful daughter: she runs daily, takes extra shifts at the hospital without complaint. Wil begins a relationship with Vivian (Lynn Chen), a ballet dancer who'd rather be doing modern dance. While Wil is afraid to tell Ma she's a lesbian, Viv worries about disappointing her father, who thinks modern dance isn't "serious." When Ma becomes pregnant and won't name her child's father, much less marry him, her father kicks her out, so she moves in with Wil. Conflicts occur over space and expectations, especially when Ma tries to please her father by enduring an arranged dating process: the ordeal brings mother and daughter together in mutual appreciation and exasperation. Seeing her mother dressed to go out, Wil is stunned: "You're beautiful," she stammers, having never considered her mother an object of anyone's desire.
Is it any good?
Alice Wu's sharp first feature brings together many relationship concerns. Though SAVING FACE includes a few typical romantic comedic elements -- the supportive next-door neighbor, gossipy community ladies, irascible grandfather, mistaken identities -- it also provides a nuanced look at immigrant transitions and at last, a layered, detailed role for wonderful Joan Chen.
The movie is especially smart about various concepts of "face," as reputation and legacy, but also as the means by which everyone of every culture gets through the days, performing in order to please others, to get ahead, to survive. Saving face is at once an acknowledgment of ritual and collective identity, a self-reinvention, a reclaiming of roots and resistance simultaneously. Against this backdrop, Wil and Vivian's romance becomes secondary to Wil and Ma's relationship.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the love and tensions between mothers and daughters (over three generations), as well as potential conflicts over traditions from another country: how might a next generation's "progress" be enhanced rather than limited by maintaining such traditions? How does Wil's fear of revealing her relationship with Vivian keep her from feeling comfortable or honest with her mother? How do their confessions help them to understand one another?