Cast: Joan Chen, Lynn Chen, Michelle Krusiec
Official Selection, 2004 Toronto International Film Festival
Viewer’s Choice Award, 2005 Golden Horse Film Festival
Presented in 35mm
SAVING FACE is the unlikely Chinese American, lesbian rom-com crossover success no one saw coming. In 2004, any one of these bullet points might have spelled disaster. And yet somehow, Alice Wu’s first film survived intact–from a script written while a software engineer, to landing Will Smith as a producer, refusing Hollywood pressure for white leads, playing Sundance, and receiving distribution, an embrace by Best Lesbian Films lists, and a top shelf award from Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards. And now, watching SAVING FACE more than 15 years later, freed from all the burdens of representation as a “first” of any kind, Alice Wu’s film can just be itself–an utterly hilarious and tender mother-daughter comedy, with squirming, sexing, and loving from some of Asian America’s best actors.
Wil (Michelle Krusiec) is a closeted lesbian with a scandal on her hands and in her New York living room: her mother. Joan Chen (Twin Peaks, The Last Emperor) in one of the best story arcs of her career, plays Wil’s 48-year-old pregnant mother, disowned and banished from Flushing (the horror!), and now redecorating Wil’s apartment to the tea-sipping glee of Chinese gossips. The new roommates have secrets aplenty as awkward surgeon Wil hides her deepening romance with ballerina Vivian (Lynn Chen), and her mother refuses to name her lover, forcing a comical husband hunt to make her respectable again. As a wedding looms, her mom’s spectacularly public mistakes compete with Wil’s inability to be anything but privately in love, forcing the most unexpected of outcomes.
Wu gives us a multivocal Chinese America, poking fun at an insular Flushing crowd and Wil’s mother’s racism, while also showing a spectrum of attitudes toward the film’s lesbian characters, Chinese traditions, and aging women. SAVING FACE is the rare gem that sparkles as delightfully today as it did so long ago.