Americanese is a story about love, not to be confused with a love story (at least not a conventional one). It has so much faith in the characters that it doesn’t rely on a contrived plot for deep and full meaning. Director Eric Byler, who also adapted the novel by Shawn Wong, carefully handles a variety of timeless themes through situations that are modern and atypical in cinema.Americanese dares to begin with the end of a relationship. Raymond and Aurora have broken up, for reasons mysterious. The ex-lovers experiment with new relationships but are haunted by each other. New romances increasingly complicate matters and details about why the couple parted ways are gradually revealed.
Raymond, played by Chris Tashima, is a Chinese American, while Aurora, played by Allison Sie, is half-Asian (her mother is Caucasian). Issues of race are central to Americanese and are presented as frustratingly complex. But this is not an “issue” or “social problem” film; it’s simply about people, people who must confront the reality that their ethnic ancestry can’t help but affect their feelings of belonging in a nation where they are a distinct minority. Maybe Aurora’s more insecure about her racial identity than she thought.
Tashima, Sie, and the rich supporting cast, which includes standouts Joan Chen and Kelly Hu, give performances I was, for some reason, skeptical of at first but eventually grew to love and appreciate for their uncommon high quality.
Under Byler’s patient direction, the Asian cast-members become characters that they would have major trouble coming across in Hollywood scripts. And not a single character, no matter how minor, seems a screenwriter’s concoction. This is because a) Americanese is an honest drama, not determined to be entertaining or adorable, and b) the actors are capable of enduring the restrained material, opting to give subtle, rather than overtly dramatic, performances.
Americanese could be dull. It’s top priority is not to blow away audience members with an epic story of heartbreak or a Crash-style lesson on race. But it’s far from boring. The characters and various plots are surprisingly relatable and sincere.Americanese, however soft-spoken, steadily earns a place in audience’s hearts.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.