November 5, 2018

SCREEN | Blending Family and Drama – 'For Izzy' x VAFF 2018

Michelle Ang Alex Chu | For Izzy | VAFF 2018

Asian-American filmmaker Alex Chu uses documentary-style footage, still photography, poetry, and animation to dramatize For Izzy. Through the recovery a queer photojournalist from opioid addiction, we follow how two Chinese families break out of her insular lives. Ostensibly a blended family drama, Chu uses creative mixed media to fully represent the emotional journey of his flawed but endearing characters.

Starring New Zealand actress Michelle Ang as an addict, Dede, who moves in with her high-strung Hong Kong businesswoman mother, Anne (Elizabeth Sung), their combative relationship establishes the tension of the film's heartfelt yet heartbreaking story of tortured family histories. They move in across the street from Laura and Peter (Jennifer Soo and Jim Lau), a high-functioning autistic woman and her protective father, and soon their lives became interconnected and dependent on each other.

Soo's performance as Laura is really the heart of the film. At first, her choices and depiction on the spectrum feel a little awkward or somewhat unconvincing but she really commits and her earnest, charming demeanour wins you over. She's quickly established as the really only reasonable adult between the two pairs. Her and Dede bond over their love of documenting their lives while both respective parents loosen a bit as their daughters bond.

Michelle Ang Alex Chu | For Izzy | VAFF 2018

The tender and understated love story between the parents crisscrossing cultural touchstones feels particularly refreshing as a narrative. How each single parent finds renewed hope in an unexpected romance is another welcome element. However, Chu goes almost too far with the blending of mediums to build an overly complex layering of a needlessly dense story over the pure performances from the talented cast.

There's so much over-explanation and exposition to fill in the past lives of our characters. It feels unnecessary considering how strong the uniformly excellent and mostly natural the actors are. How both young women assert their sometimes destructive independence comments nicely on traditional eastern culture amidst the Southern California setting.

Chu's second feature film is a refreshing story of various Chinese-American women in the process of recovery. How it deals with Asian expressions of emotions and identities in a western setting provides a truly rich depiction of its unique characters.

For Izzy screened as the closing night spotlight for the 2018 Vancouver Asian Film Festival and will be available through video on demand starting November 15th.

More | YVArcade / Asian CineVision

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