Review: Love Arcadia (Gan, 2015) – CAAMFest 2015

Still from the movie Love Arcadia

Director Lawrence Gan‘s debut feature-length film is a pleasant romantic comedy taking place in the uber-Asian Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia. For recent high school graduate Jake (Anthony Ma), his job at his parents’ bubble tea shop in an outdoor shopping mall is his passion. But, with no college aspirations, Jake’s fervent hope for his world to stay the same begins to erode as he watches his classmates prepare for their wedding and his best friend Louie (Arvin Lee) get ready to move to New York. It’s not that life is passing him by so much as that everyone is leaving the life he loves. Then one summer day the beautiful but brusque Joanna (Michelle Huang), a visitor from out-of-town, stops by the shop to borrow its wifi. Jake soon discovers that Joanna is actually a representative of her father’s real estate development firm, which is planning on buying the mall, tearing it down, and replacing it with luxury condominiums. Ignited by a fierce desire to save the place so close to heart as well as by Joanna’s vixen beauty, Jake seeks to win over his adversary. But his adventures lead him to a difficult decision: which will he choose–shop or girl?

Love Arcadia held its world premiere at CAAMFest this year to a sold out screening. I was surprisingly charmed by this tale of a boy who knows what he wants–even if it doesn’t seem like much to everyone else–and isn’t ashamed to fight for it. The film has a quintessentially Asian American vibe, complete with gently mocking humor, a sweetly innocent love story, adults with thick Chinese accents, and a backdrop of gratuitous talk about good food and drink. Huang’s heartfelt performance as Joanna more than makes up for the slightly hokey acting of the male lead and his sidekick, and Lana McKissack (as Jake’s other friend in their BFF trio) isn’t bad either. But never mind–the tone of the film is a bit hokey, I would like to believe self-consciously (if not intentionally) so.

There’s also something heartwarming about watching a labor-of-love, Kickstarter-funded project come to fruition. I wish I could have attended the film’s Q&A session–I’m sure it would have been full of enthusiastic cast and crew–but I guess I’ll just be contented with a brief stalk session on social media.

Having visited Arcadia, I didn’t think that the place could be romanticized, but Love Arcadia sure tries and–maybe?–even succeeds.