starring Choi Seung-yoon, Dohyun Noel Hwang, Ethan Hwang
written and directed by Anthony Shim
by Walter Chaw Anthony Shim's emotionally lacerating memoir-cum-melodrama is an intimately observed cultural piece molded around a Mildred Pierce framework. There's nothing it doesn't do reasonably well, even switching aspect ratios to reflect expanding consciousness and experience in a way that's useful rather than simply distracting, yet there's a certain tidiness to it all that makes it feel calculated. I think it ultimately fails to do what it most wants to do, that is, express the fullness of the immigrant experience as one based as much on hopeful aspiration as on struggle and generational trauma. I got the sad part to the extent the film is willing to go there in an honest way. The other part? Not so much. Maybe moments of connection and love would clash with the typical blue stateliness that defines the Canadian film industry: self-seriousness undermined by the picture's slavishness to prestige formula. One part defiant individualism, one part obvious insecurity. Or maybe there isn't a non-traumatic aspect to immigration and the challenges of assimilation, and Riceboy Sleeps is acknowledgment that life for perpetual aliens is just unrelieved--indeed, unrelievable--pain. I think, really, the problem with Riceboy Sleeps is that it arrives after watermarks like Minari, Columbus, Spa Night, Driveways, The Farewell, and Everything Everywhere All at Once--films that provide a fuller portrait of the Asian-American experience while also covering the key trigger points this one covers. If it were the first rather than the latest, it would be closer to revelation than to parody.