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Written and directed by and starring Justin Chon, its reception from audience members (tears and applause) differed considerably from its reception from critics (it stands at a lowly 67 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), a cycle that seems likely to repeat beyond the borders of France, leaving the awards season prospects of the film — which Focus will release Sept. 17 — a big question mark.
Chon, who previously wrote and directed 2017’s Gook, which won the Best of NEXT Audience Award at Sundance, and 2019’s Ms. Purple, here tells the story of Antonio, a thirtysomething man who was adopted from South Korea and brought to America at the age of 3. Antonio now resides in New Orleans and is married to a woman who was born in America (Oscar winner Alicia Vikander) and has a daughter from a previous relationship (Sydney Kowalske) with a cop (Mark O’Brien); they have a baby of their own on the way when a series of unfortunate events land him in the crosshairs of ICE.
There is no denying the emotional power and timeliness of this sort of story — I would describe it as a cross between In America and House of Sand and Fog, with a denouement that particularly rips at the heartstrings — but it will be interesting to see if awards voters can get past a screenplay that almost every critic in Cannes observed is lacking in subtlety (with one particularly cartoonish antagonist), overcrowded with characters and storylines (most notably one centered on a Vietnamese woman) and in which virtually every single thing that can go wrong does.
Then again, Crash won the best picture Oscar.
My gut feeling is that this film, in this era, will primarily click in indie circles — Gotham Awards, Spirit Awards, etc. — if at all, and perhaps most of all for its central performances. Chon clearly pours his heart into a performance that he had been thinking about long before the cameras rolled. And Sweden native Vikander has a hit-or-miss N’awlins accent, but several affecting and showy scenes of the sort that awards voters tend to like, none more so than her rendition of the title Linda Ronstadt song, which evokes memories of Carey Mulligan’s “New York, New York” scene in Shame.
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