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3 reviews, 3 user ratings

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by William Goss

"The Way We Were"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: Hollywood often stumbles when it comes to portraying real romance on the big screen, especially when it all falls apart, opting instead for results much more cute, contrived, and convenient than the real world would actually allow. On the other hand, most independent films almost try too hard, depicting love as either extremely eager or earnest, substituting quirks and neuroses for true affection, and consequently come off just about as insincere. Then, every once in a while, someone gets it right, and such is the case with Eric Byler’s 'Americanese.'

Writer/director Byler (Charlotte Sometimes) wisely begins with the end in mind, literally starting his romantic dramedy just after Raymond (Chris Tashima) and Aurora (Allison Sie) have called it quits. That doesn’t stop him from letting himself in to their old place during the day, always making himself at home and then making sure to leave everything exactly as it was before. Aurora still knows that he does this, even calling her own home phone to leave him a message. Raymond is regularly encouraged by his friend (Michael Paul Chan) to get back out into the field, while Aurora’s gal pal (Kelly Hu) finds every possible way to blame the relationship’s collapse solely on Raymond. Even though a lingering attraction between the pair only makes the forging of new relationships with total strangers that much more difficult, both are simultaneously coming to terms with their cultural heritage and social identity as Asian Americans.

The reason Americanese works so well is because Byler keeps everyone’s feet on the ground. The dialogue and actions feel authentic, and the matters of romance and race is never even close to heavy-handed or hokey. The fact that the characters are Asian figures into the proceedings, but only as a facet of personal reflection. These characters have been, currently are, and always will be Asian; it is merely a part of who they are, a natural dimension that they know and acknowledge without excessively dwelling on. As for sifting through the wreckage of a relationship, he covers the territory with extraordinarily understated confidence, letting the film unfold at a gradual measure with seemingly simplistic visual and musical composition that wholly complements the intimate depths of emotional exploration that Byler delves into.

This is brought home with the power of the performances, particularly Tashima, who gives his former divorcee the proper impression of a man all too familiar with the pain of parting. Sie matches him as a woman nearly willing to move on who sorely comes to realize that the cause of her ethnic unease may be a bit too close to home. Chan and Hu do very well as the supporters without dissolving into sarcastic sidekicks, and Sab Shimono does an admirable job with his select scenes as Raymond’s lonely father.

In adapting Shawn Wong’s novel, 'American Knees,' Byler made a crucial decision in omitting earlier material involving Raymond and Aurora’s relationship as it came to be, yet he manages to invest in the characters a due sense of their personal histories, conveyed most effectively by genuine dialogue and compelling performances all around. Instead of feeling slow or sloppy, Byler and company create a film of remarkable grace and tenderness. In this age of saccharine and sap, 'Americanese' doesn’t hit a single false note, and oh, how bittersweet the sound.

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originally posted: 05/11/06 17:24:16
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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.

User Comments

5/16/06 Maitreya Gabeler Truly Exceptional 5 stars
4/03/06 literallyjohn great ensemble and beautiful adaption of the novel 5 stars
3/31/06 Soha Molina good movie 4 stars
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Directed by
  Eric Byler

Written by
  Eric Byler

  Chris Tashima
  Allison Sie
  Joan Chen
  Kelly Hu
  Ben Shenkman
  Sab Shimono

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