Friday, February 05, 2016

Lilt from the Ground Up

Netflix is generally on the mark with suggestions it thinks I'll like, but occasionally it misses the mark. So it did with the drama Lilting.

Lilting is the story of Junn, an old Cambodian Chinese woman in an assisted living facility in London. Unable to speak English, she is suddenly cut off from the world by the death of her son, Kai. Unexpectedly, Kai's roommate Richard reaches out to her, hiring an interpreter to help both of them communicate and share their grief. Junn doesn't know that her son was gay, and in a long term relationship with this "roommate."

There's a lot of raw emotion on display in the film. Junn's loss is conveyed through lingering camera shots, bittersweet flashbacks, and introspective dream sequences. Richard's loss is conveyed through more showy means: flowing tears and intense monologues delivered powerfully by Ben Whishaw, the one actor in this film you'd most likely recognize. (He starred in Perfume, and plays Q in Daniel Craig's James Bond films.) Nothing about what these characters are going through feels artificial or maudlin.

But the simple fact is, there just isn't much going on in this story. Richard has a secret; Junn doesn't know it; when he finally tells her, that will be it. The movie is only 90 minutes long, and it often feels strained and stretched just to fill that little time. A subplot involving Junn and an amorous senior in her home meanders before ending abruptly. Even the core scenes sometimes feel too long, as characters wait on translation between languages. (It certainly conveys the lack of communication and the sense of isolation, but it also certainly makes for a painfully slow pace.)

I'd like to say more, but the movie simply doesn't give me much to work with. Perhaps you could argue that makes it a good metaphor for the coming out process for many gays and lesbians? (In that until you do it, it seems like it's going to be a much bigger deal than it turns out to be.)

In any case, Lilting has good performances, in service of a truthful story. It's just not a very deep or engrossing story. I'd give the movie a C-.

No comments: