A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 175 – White on Rice

White on Rice – August 22nd, 2010

This movie went through a bunch of film festivals a little while back, and when it did a friend of ours from high school was talking about it on Facebook. Turns out he’s got a producing credit, which is pretty cool. We were curious about it and asked him when we could get a hold of it on DVD so we could add it to the collection and to this project and he said he’d send us a copy. So this marks the first time we get to do that disclaimery thing and say that one of the producers gave us a DVD copy of the movie. A pretty cool milestone and a pretty cool movie.

I’ll warn up front, there’s a good deal of awkward and embarrassment-based comedy in this movie. It was never so bad that I felt like I had to leave the room, but it’s in there. Mostly because the main character is such a walking disaster. A cheerful walking disaster, but a walking disaster nonetheless. That’s the point. That’s what the movie’s about. It’s about 40 year old Jimmy and his life and his family and how incredibly badly he messes everything up even when he’s trying to do nice things. He means well, but his goof-ups are impressive. The movie could just have been a series of those goof-ups, each one out-doing the last. And to an extent, it is. But that’s really just the framework for what is a fun and oddly endearing movie.

You see, Jimmy lives with his sister and her husband and son. He had a bit of a hard time after his wife left him (she cooked him three months’ worth of meals so he wouldn’t starve – Jimmy’s that sort of guy), so he’s been living with them, sharing a bedroom with ten year old Bob. Jimmy’s really much like a kid himself. He’s all eagerness and misunderstandings and tremendous effort pushed in the wrong direction. His sister, Aiko, is incredibly understanding of Jimmy’s foibles. Her husband, Tak? Not so much. Bob doesn’t seem to care one way or the other. He’s got more important things to worry about than Jimmy.

The movie begins with Tak’s niece, Ramona, coming to stay with the family for a little bit and Jimmy latching onto the idea that Ramona will be the new love of his life. You can imagine how well that goes. I’d go so far as to say that Ramona having a boyfriend already is the least of the obstacles in Jimmy’s way. But really, the movie begins with a clip from a samurai movie Jimmy was an extra in when he was younger, shown while Jimmy, Aiko and Tak watch (Jimmy makes Bob leave the room). It’s a cute little moment and some fun foreshadowing for the eventual climax of the film. To be honest, I’d totally watch Ambush at Blood-Trail Gate if it really existed. I’d probably laugh just like Aiko and Jimmy do. Tak isn’t so amused, and that pretty much sets the stage for the rest of the movie.

A lot of the things Jimmy does make me wince. His obsession with Ramona is so transparently one-sided and he’s the only one who doesn’t see it. He hates his job and pays no attention to it, he’s got no money, no skills, no life. All he has is his love of dinosaurs and the top bunk of his nephew’s bed. It’s kind of sad. Except he’s relentlessly optimistic about it all. He’s going to find the girl of his dreams and a great job and everything’s going to be awesome! Hiroshi Watanabe, as Jimmy, really does a fantastic job of taking a hang-dog look and turning it right around into a hopeful grin and making you want that hopeful grin to be right this time. It’s tough to like Jimmy. I found myself sympathizing with Tak a lot, though I also sympathized with Aiko. Jimmy’s thoroughly infuriating. All the more so because he seems so clueless about how badly he messes things up and gets things wrong. But then he’s such a genuinely nice guy.

I don’t think I need to explain the details of how Jimmy crashes and burns with Ramona. This isn’t so much a love story as a coming of age story, except the age is 40. It’s almost a midlife crisis story, except you never get the impression that this is a new phase for Jimmy. It’s more that he’s never quite found his purchase in life. He’s never figured out what he wants to do, let alone how to do it. And yet it’s also not a triumphant story of a man learning how to cope after his wife leaves him. Jimmy remains a disaster to the end.

But it’s also the story of a family needing a little bit of a bump to get back on track. In between all of Jimmy’s messes is the story of Aiko, Tak and Bob, who seem to all be off in their own worlds. Aiko and Tak are both working a lot, and so is Bob, who’s got his own deal going on. I knew a kid who was just like Bob once. He used to come to my book club at work. It’s almost eerie. If I hadn’t been certain that the kid I knew is high school age by now, I’d have been tempted to check the credits. Let me just say, Justin Kwong does a great job with the role. He’s the straight man to a lot of Jimmy’s lines and does it excellently. Jimmy’s presence in the household doesn’t really help things between Bob and his parents, but it does make for a fun dynamic and a great conversation between Aiko and Tak where whether they’re talking about Jimmy or Bob isn’t quite clear. The two stories could have felt uneven or disconnected, but they don’t. They fit just fine and end up complimenting each other.

Towards the middle I felt like things dragged a little bit. I’m not sure if I can pinpoint what it was, but before one plot point that takes place on Halloween, it got a wee bit unfocused to me. Fortunately, once the Halloween crisis happens, things pick back up and we’re moving right along again. There are a couple of moments that are scenes from Jimmy’s imagination that I’m not sure if I liked or not. It happens maybe twice. Not enough to establish it as a stylistic choice but enough that it made me wonder if it would be incorporated more. But aside from those and the bit of slowness, the movie flows very well. The cast is great and there were a few laugh out loud moments for me. Given that most of these “What am I doing with my life?” type movies are either about 20-somethings or about folks in their 50s who are definitely adults in all senses of the term, this is certainly unique. And you might not really like Jimmy at the end, but I couldn’t help but hope he landed on his feet. With no broken legs.

Just to make it clear, we were given a copy of this movie on DVD by one of the producers. While our self-imposed rules of the project do state that we’re watching every movie in our collection, we reserve the right to not include gifts if we don’t want to. This protects us from having to watch things we didn’t want and also means we make no guarantee of a review in the case that something is sent to us.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

White on Rice

August, 22, 2010

White on Rice

This is a special treat for us here at A and A. Because of the runaway success of our blog and our extensive Hollywood insider contacts we have scored a preview copy of a movie that hasn’t even been released on DVD yet. Well, okay, we got a pre-release preview copy because our high-school friend is one of the producers, but that counts as insider contacts, right?

I’m not kidding about this being a treat though. I’d like to think that if I were still working at a video store, and if this movie showed up on my shelves I’d have seen it then and enjoyed recommending it to those of my patrons who enjoy simple, amusing, and well made independent films. I just happen, through fortuitous circumstance, to have a chance to discover it a little bit before the rest of the world.

White on Rice is the story of Jimmy, a twelve year old trapped in the body of a forty year old man. His wife has left him and he’s been forced to move in with his sister and her husband, living on the bunk-bed with their son in the basement. Jimmy is, for the most part, a bumbling idiot full of good intentions who, in spite of his enthusiasm, is completely incapable of ever getting anything right. His sister Aiko finds him fun, even with all the trouble he causes. His brother-in-law Tak thinks he’s an unbearable nuisance (and to be fair, Jimmy has been responsible for a fair number of disasters.) Jimmy tries to be an adult role model for his nephew Bob, which is ironic because Bob, at all of ten years old, is the most adult person in the whole family. All the time Jimmy is trying to find a new woman to fill the hole left by his wife, with very little luck.

As the movie starts Tak’s niece Ramona is preparing to visit the family for a while, and Jimmy gets it into his head that she is the perfect woman for him. The only problem is that she already has a boyfriend; Jimmy’s suave and cool co-worker Tim. So if he is to convince Ramona that he is the man for her he will have to overcome not just the objections of Tak and Tim’s coolness, but his own bumbling ways.

Hiroshi Watanabe, as Jimmy, has a very difficult tightrope to walk here. Jimmy is a complete fool almost all of the time. Even his best intentioned efforts to do things right tend to backfire, and it’s easy to see why Tak desperately wants him out of the house. When he tries to be clever or duplicitous in his attempts to woo Ramona it is almost cringe inducing. It would be easy to over do this and end up with the lead character being so destructive and oblivious that the movie would suffer for it, but Hiroshi manages to play him with such wide-eyed enthusiasm that you can’t help having a soft spot for the character. He can’t help being what he is, and you do sort of come to appreciate that he’s trying to do his best.

The rest of the cast does a great job as well. Particularly delightful is Mio Takada as Tak, Jimmy’s long-suffering brother-in-law. At first his whole purpose in the movie is to disapprove of Jimmy, with a series of grumpy and dour glares, but as things progress he has a side-plot that adds a lot more depth to his character. Tak is worried that his wife, too, might lose interest in him and as their twelfth anniversary is almost upon them he is trying in his own quiet, desperate way to show her that he still cares. Meanwhile both he and his wife have sort of lost touch with their industrious but lonely son. There are some good laughs in this side-plot and also some touching tenderness.

Indeed I’d say that that is true of most of the movie. It combines laugh out loud moments of brutal honesty with a kind hearted message of familial love. Sure there are bumps along the way, and sure Jimmy almost inadvertently ruins everything he touches, but ultimately the real heart of the movie wins out.

Writer/Director Dave Boyle does a great job too. You never get the feeling that this is a small film made on an independent film budget. The actors are all fully committed to their parts, and if there were corners being cut it’s not easily seen on film. There are even some clever innovations that come out of the budgetary restraints. (My favorite shot in the movie is one of a car speeding off with one of the lead characters in peril, and the camera bounces and bobs as the cameraman literally runs after it. It’s not a POV shot, but the harsh camera movement really imparted to me an urgency that a dolly shot or a simple zoom would have lacked.)

This movie was just fun to watch. From its fantastic cinematic opening to Jimmy’s fun dreams to his every awkward attempt to interact with normal human beings there were honest and simple laughs throughout. And of course as a twelve year old boy in a forty year old body myself I can’t help sympathising with Jimmy’s plight. I somewhat regret not working in a video store any more so I can’t recommend it to anybody when it does eventually make its way to DVD (after its whirlwind tour of the indie film circuit is done later this year.)

August 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment