“Almost Perfect” is a slight romantic comedy set within the New York Chinese-American community. That last fact may be what’s most remarkable about the film. While it is set in that community, it concerns itself not one bit with the ethnicity of its characters.
Meaning perhaps we’ve reached the point in American movies that people of color and mixed marriages can exist in a movie without that being its central dramatic focus. Let’s hope so.
The filmmaker Bertha Bay-sa Pan, a Columbia University film school grad, actually made one of those ethnocentric films back in 2002 called “Face.” It was a very good and well made film that premiered at Sundance and starred Bai Ling in one of her best roles.
The film was all about the problems of three generations of Chinese-American women from the same family, many of those problems touching on issues that stem from their culture.
As things quickly spiral out of control, the family’s rock is Vanessa (Hawaiian-born beauty Kelly Hu, pictured, top photo). For she is the only stable member of her family.
Amusingly, everyone in the family has adopted the practice of directing complaints about other family members through Vanessa rather than at the person in question.
The marriage of her parents is on the rocks. Newly retired, her dad (British actor Roger Rees, pictured below) wants his architecture professor-wife (Tina Chen, pictured above left) to accompany him to Shanghai but naturally she is busy teaching.
She seems to carry a lifetime worth of grudges against her husband so it doesn’t take much for her to banish him from their home altogether.
Her surf-bum brother has gone AWOL from his own marriage (and is played by Hong Kong actor Edison Chen in one of his first roles since a sex phone scandal nearly derailed his career). Meanwhile her fashion-designer sister (Christina Chang) changes boyfriends the way some people change socks.
All of which would be situation-normal, except that Vanessa has just found her almost perfect guy (Ivan Shaw). In fact, he has even asked her to marry him. Having nothing but poor relationship role models in her family, she opts for living together to see how things go.
And they go badly — due entirely to her mixed-up family.
So this is sitcom land where minor things get blown out of proportion and solutions to problems are readily at hand. Indeed all that really needs to happen is for Vanessa to shut the door to her entire family — the running gag is that everyone knows where she keeps a spare key — and just say “no” to them.
I admit I liked “Face,” a much more complex and nuanced family portrait, better. But it’s nice to see Pan lighten up and try her hand at comedy. The results are pleasing though forgettable.
Opens: September 21, 2012 (Eleven Arts)
Production companies: Slew Pictures, Almost Perfect Film
Cast: Kelly Hu, Ivan Shaw, Christina Chang, Tina Chen, Edison Chen, Roger Rees
Director/screenwriter: Bertha Bay-sa Pan
Producers: Riva Marker, Bertha Bay-sa Pan, Derrick Tseng
Executive producers: Jim Chu, Balázs Nyan, Eric Nyan
Director of photography: Sam Chase
Production designer: Wing Lee
Music: Jeff Martin
Costume designer: Jenny Gering
Editor: Sheri Bylander
No rating, 105 minutes