Review: A Picture of You (Chan, 2013) – CAAMFest 2014

Still from the movie A Picture of You

We caught director J.P. Chan‘s first feature length film, A Picture of You, last Saturday afternoon at CAAMFest’s opening weekend. The film is up against six other pictures in the festival’s Narrative Competition.

Not knowing what to expect after skimming the terse description provided in the program guide, we were pleasantly surprised by the humor and lightness of a film that portrays two siblings grieving the recent loss of their mother. The estranged brother and sister arrive at their mother’s lakeside home to sort through and pack up her belongings and, in the process, discover an unexpected photograph of their mother. The deadpan, slightly staged comedy reminded me of another CAAMFest success (from back when the festival was known as SFIAAFF): Saving Face, which won the 2005 festival’s Narrative Audience Award and which also screened at Sundance earlier that year.

The film stars Jo Mei and Andrew Pang as the siblings, with support from Teyonah Parris, Lucas Dixon, and Jodi Long. From the way the cast were talking during the Q&A, it seemed that Long is a “legendary” Asian American actress, and indeed her IMDB credits stretch back to 1980. She’s had bit parts in The Cosby Show, RoboCop 3, and The Hot Chick, but no standout mainstream roles as far as I could tell. Well, it’s no surprise that those gigs are few and far between for Asian American actors (who seem to get the most big breaks from science fiction movies and shows–let’s not explore those cultural implications). At any rate, the cast has decent chemistry: the comedic timing worked, the relationships were believable, and the barbed exchanges felt mostly authentic. I also give the film credit for being refreshingly post-racial in that it depicts a group of friends that includes an Asian female, a black female, and a white male, and for once the race of the friends is not the focus, does not even need to be explained. Yet, neither is race thoroughly ignored (there are some quite funny jabs at racial profiling sprinkled throughout the movie) as it sometimes is in other films that cast non-white people in roles not specifically written for a certain minority. In this sense, the film reflects real life (or, at least, my real life) where racial differences are present but do not represent the totality of one’s experience.

Is this film going to sneak into next year’s Oscars? Or even the Independent Spirit Awards? No, it’s not that kind of movie. Still, I’d say it’s worth watching for its charm. Maybe you’ll be as delighted as we were.

While it’s too late to catch this film at CAAMFest, look out for future screenings in your area or pre-order it online.

Note on Teyonah Parris: You might recognize her and wonder why. I know I did. Well, I’m not going to tell you why. Just kidding, she’s Don Draper’s secretary Dawn on Mad Men! She also has a prominent role in Dear White People, which premiered at this year’s Sundance.

Watch the Q&A session I taped:

Trailer:

A Picture of You

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