Saving Face

Saving Face

This is cute.

There are some who seem to think that's not enough, that that isn't a quality that should be critically heralded. Some people think that "cute" is a modifier that suggests "good but not great" or some other back-handed compliment. What it comes off as code for, though, is "this is for girls, so it can't be great cinema." What it comes off as is code for "light-heartedness isn't valued by me, the great cinephile." What it comes off as is code for "great cinema is miserable."

It's at worst misogynist and at best boring.

This movie is cute, and it's absolutely perfect for being cute.

How difficult is it to be a cute film? How difficult is it to weave Chinese diaspora culture, modern New York City, queer romantic comedy, and drama about unwed pregnancy and still be cute? Do you realize how well crafted this film is?

The careful storytelling and foreshadowing (Young Yu at the subway station, for instance) and characterization (Gao's arc is a masterpiece) and of course the cinematography. Watch the way it shoots Gao when she's insecure. Note how it amplifies her emotional state. Note how it blends performance and composition. Watch how it uses every simple little trick (big airport space, crowded ballrooms, cold hospital lighting, funny little dating montages--the parallels between Wil's and Gao's dating lives is perfectly done). Note that it's done sincerely. Note that it's stripped clear of the macho bullshit and patriarchal values--it depicts them without condoning them. It critiques the values without denigrating the culture.

It takes the format of the romcom and it uses it. It doesn't adhere to it in some tired way; it uses the tools that come with the genre to tell a compelling story. This is a perfect genre film. This is a sweet, cute lesbian romcom. It's not white; it's not toxic; it's not even assimilationist. Though it doesn't embrace radical queer iconography, it certainly doesn't suggest Vivian and Wil become "normal." Rather, it defies those who scorn their love and takes up their space.

This deserves far more credit than the dismissive tone you use when you call it "cute." "Cute" is tone most filmmakers fail at. This one succeeds and wields it to express something meaningful and evocative and warm.

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