Review: X’s and O’s

X’s and O’s (2007)
Clayne Crawford, Judy Marte, Warren Christie, Sarah Wright, John Wynn, Lynn Chen.  Written and directed by Kedar Korte.

exesI think one of the reasons I responded so positively to Ride Along 2 is that I’d seen so many indie films immediately before it that big-budget lighting, sound, editing, and cinematography, were a shock to my system.  I’d forgotten how good a movie could look and sound.  Even with mediocre content, the packaging was so nice, I was pleased just to experience it with likable actors.  I wouldn’t say that Kevin Hart is necessarily a better actor than anyone in X’s and O’s or its ilk, but I imagine the actors in the Hollywood film had more rehearsal time and as many takes as needed to satisfy the director’s vision.

This is not to say that X’s and O’s is technically bad, but boy, is it noticeably indie.

andSimon is crazy about Jane, but Jane has him friend-zoned so completely that when they say good night after dinner and drinks, she embraces him, kisses him right next to his mouth, and licks him a few times before they separate.  His roomie Lorenzo doesn’t have this problem: he’s waking up next to a different woman every morning, although it seems the one he really wants is an ex who wants nothing to do with him.  Meanwhile, one of their friends has a girlfriend but treats her like property while driving everyone crazy with exaggerated, faux hip-hop speech and mannerisms.

ohsSimon has friend-zoned a fellow graduate student named Trese, who looks a lot like young Jennifer Lopez, which is interesting because Simon looks like young Ray Liotta.  Trese is hung up on Simon, but she’s got a few issues of her own, mostly in the way men treat women in romantic relationships.

This is a lot of characters to juggle, and the script mostly handles it well.  The problem with this film is that its semi-interesting characters don’t find enough interesting stuff to talk about or do, then they turn out not to be interesting either, and not very likable.  Add an element that I find tiresome (slam poetry), and some strange stuff in a Christian dorm, and the whole thing is just kind of a dreary, annoying slog.  If my power had gone out before it was done, I’m not sure I would have cared, and the only thing that kept me mildly engaged is the prettiness of the actresses.

Unless you’re trying to do what I’m doing (seeing everything Lynn Chen is in), take a pass on this one.


Review: Yes, We’re Open

Yes, We’re Open (2012)
Lynn Chen, Parry Shen, Sheetal Sheth. Directed by Richard Wong.

yesweA yuppie couple, slightly bored with its sex life, considers the possibilities of an open relationship. The man and woman think of themselves as modern and unrestricted, but despite the urging of another couple for them to give it a try, the pitfalls seem prohibitive, among them their simply not being sure what they want.

I am an avid admirer of Lynn Chen, whom I loved in White on Rice and The People I’ve Slept With, and whose social media content I find entertaining and interesting. She has a screen presence that reminds me of the smart, pretty women I encounter every day, a kind of graceful but uncomplicated confidence that’s easy to get along with. For this reason, her character is the least annoying of the four central characters in this movie. Where the others are smart and unbearably obnoxious, she is smart but only mildly obnoxious. Her character’s partner is the kind of guy who turns a wedding toast into a political diatribe lacking any social awareness, and the fact that she loves him is a condemnation against her.

yes_were_open (6)I hate to say this because his performance seems sincere, but Parry Shen, who plays Chen’s lover, is a weak link among pretty good actors. Almost every scene he’s in feels slightly off, like maybe he was the understudy who had to stop in at the last minute and can focus either on blocking or on lines, but not both at the same time. And boy, is his character unlikeable.

This is the problem with this movie as whole: its characters are just impossible to like, and not even my admiration of Lynn Chen is strong enough to keep me from counting the minutes until the movie’s conclusion. I didn’t want to spend a minute more than necessary with these people, and when one of them flat-out tells another that nobody can stand him, it’s actually true of everyone else in the film, including the person leveling the accusation.

Really not recommended unless you’re a Lynn Chen fan, in which case it’s sort of required viewing.


Review: The People I’ve Slept With

The People I’ve Slept With (2009)
Karin Anna Cheung, Wilson Cruz, Archie Kao, Lynn Chen, James Shigeta, Randall Park. Directed by Quentin Lee.

the peopleAngela (Karin Anna Cheung) is a single woman in her late twenties, an unapologetic lover of sex who says, “a slut is just a woman with a man’s morals.” She rejects the traditional get-married-have-kids-be-successful model of happiness her older sister Juliet (Lynn Chen) has embraced, happy with her retail job in the daytime and casual hookups at night.

i've sleptWhen she discovers she’s pregnant, she’s confronted with a few situations in need of being worked out, not the least of which is figuring out who the father is. With the encouragement and assistance of her best friend Gabriel (Wilson Cruz), Angela works through her issues, aided also by the collection of photos she’s amassed of all her romantic partners (cutely labeled with nicknames, measurements of length and girth, and occupations).

withCheung, in case you’ve forgotten, was the female lead in Better Luck Tomorrow, a mile-marker of sorts in Asian American film. She was outstanding in that film, and is quite good in this one, especially in scenes where she delivers lines by herself. There are a few scenes that feel under-rehearsed, as if the actors are still getting to know each other and their characters’ relationships. The timing feels off in these few scenes, and the actors’ deliveries present as if they’re waiting for their turns, rather than listening to what’s being said to them before they speak. They give the film a kind of rushed feeling, despite otherwise strong performances all around.

It’s a fun movie with well-conceived characters, touching on several issues young adults of any American ethnicity confront in some way, with a few plot situations you’ve probably never seen.