The path the story takes overall is also not exactly unpredictable, either; you generally know where this is headed from the beginning, since it is, after all, a romantic comedy at heart.
But the New York Chinese American setting is different enough, with just enough little surprises sprinkled along the way — Ma furtively renting a porn video, Wil helping her mother getting ready for a date, Vivian teaching Wil how to fall like a dancer — that the film still feels fresh.
And in a nice change from most romantic lesbian-themed movies, the solid directing, cinematography, production quality and writing all combine to give the film the kind of smooth polish usually only found in big budget movies where the lesbians are murderers or someone's best friend — an even more remarkable feat given that this is Wu's first feature film.
All three of the lead characters may seem somewhat stereotypical at first glance, but they are quickly revealed to be interesting, three-dimensional women who defy easy categorization.
Saving Face also boasts an outstanding cast with an array of experience — from the veteran Joan Chen (The Last Emperor), to the up-and-coming Michelle Krusiec (Pumpkin), to newcomer Lynn Chen (All My Children), who told audiences at Sundance that this was the first film script she’d ever been sent.
Last year at Sundance, I saw D.E.B.S. and walked away thinking that the film would create legions of new (lesbian) fans for Jordana Brewster. This year, I left the festival with the strong feeling that besides signaling the entrance of a talented new director, Saving Face is someday going to be known as the film that launched Lynn Chen’s career.
Although Joan Chen and Michelle Krusiec deliver excellent performances — Chen is brilliant and funny as a woman who finally dares to stand on her own after years of submission, and Krusiec nails the awkward, tomboy-ish Wil, who will probably remind you of at least one lesbian you know — Lynn Chen brings a quiet intensity and radiance to Vivian that makes her very memorable, despite the fact that she has the least screen time of the three.
Saving Face is one of the few feature films about Asian Americans to get a theatrical release since The Joy Luck Club made a big splash in 1993, and the first U.S. theatrical release featuring an Asian American lesbian couple.
There have been Asian American lesbian characters in theatrical releases before, but only three in recent years: Wild Side (1995), High Art (1998), and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), and in all three, the Asian American lesbian characters were involved with white women.
Saving Face is an engaging and entertaining film, but more importantly, it offers Asian American lesbians a chance to finally see something of themselves represented on the big screen. It gives lesbian and bisexual women of all races and ethnicities a good lesbian romantic comedy of the kind we haven’t seen on the big screen in years.
It’s about time on both fronts.