Screened at the 30th annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival (3/5); Rotten Tomatoes (***)
As noble and uplifting as this family drama is, especially in its depiction of a concerned parent willing to do anything to help her child, the film is a little too rote all around to make it engaging and affecting. Writer-director Ann Hu’s third feature addresses the issue of dyslexia and what a loving mother puts herself through to aid her daughter, a victim of an inadequate, unenlightened Chinese education system, to help her get the assistance she needs to overcome her learning disability. With the assistance of an American teacher on an educational exchange program, mother and child subsequently relocate to New York to get that help, aided by one the educator’s friends, an assertive, disabled writer who takes them in. Once there, the narrative faithfully follows the tried-and-true formula of what’s involved in realizing that objective, touching on each required development in precise, perfectly timed order. While the film may indeed be informative about its subject matter, its predictable presentation format could have just as easily been used to address almost any other health-related, psychological or social issue; simply plug in the right pieces to achieve the desired result. Ironically, though, there are also some story elements that are all too easily glossed over, making one wonder how these significant developments occur with surprisingly remarkable ease. Then there’s the casting, which could use some shoring up, too; while Zhu Zhu as mom and Harmonie He as daughter are fine, the supporting performances leave much to be desired, particularly those turned in by Helen Slater and Amy Irving, both of whom could have phoned in their portrayals. Clearly, this is a picture with its heart and intentions in the right place, but its execution needs more spit, polish and imagination to draw audiences in and keep them suitably riveted.