starring Chris Tashima, Allison Sie, Sab Shimono, Munda Razooki
screenplay by Eric Byler, based on the novel by Shawn Wong
directed by Eric Byler
by Walter Chaw Eric Byler's follow-up to his haunted, blue Charlotte Sometimes is this adaptation of Shawn Wong's American Knees, which, like Charlotte Sometimes, follows the day-to-day of Asian-Americans--though unlike that film, it fails to find that buried thrum to tie together the little glimpses comprising the whole. It's not for lack of trying, as Byler (over)uses the dissolve as his primary editing tactic in what tracks as an attempt to poeticize the essentially mundane and to literalize what, in the novel, is completely internal. Being Chinese-American myself, a lot of the emotional frigidity and distance the film's central figure Raymond (Chris Tashima, a dead ringer for Bruce Campbell) exhibits required little clarification, yet because Americanese is left without a dramatic centre, once frayed-wire Betty (a tremendous Joan Chen) is introduced as a love interest for lovelorn cipher Raymond, its tonal shift and narrative acrobatics strain patience and credibility. It's not the glacial pace that fatigues, but a lack of connection with the characters, while the feeling that long passages have been left out in the interest of mood distracts instead of entrancing us. It's refreshing and lovely to see Asians on screen as conflicted, romantic, flawed characters, but for all the patience and inarguably good intentions of Americanese, Charlotte Sometimes remains a much more affecting contribution to the conversation.