JWR Articles: Film/DVD - White on Rice (Director: Dave Boyle) - November 18, 2009

White on Rice

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Reviewed at the 2009 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival
Fun time at Reel Asian

Two servings of humour—one a freewheeling hors d’oeuvre followed by a musically familiar entrée—filled the early-evening menu on the fourth day of the Fest. While satisfying in many ways, the feature paled slightly in comedic comparison to its carefully selected short.

Bicycles joined at the hip

Mio Adilman
2009, 14 min.
Four stars
Writer/director Adilman—aided and surely abetted by Bobby Del Rio as the “overlocked” cyclist—cleverly demonstrates his knowledge of Kafka (cross-reference below) and matriarchs in a road movie that relies on two-wheeler parking to make its zany points.

Every time the hapless, easily angered B tries to pedal home, his ride gets locked to another.

As the nightmare continues, B’s mother-like-son commandant (the hot-head, foul-mouth outbursts from he can’t hold a candle to she) demands apologies be given rather than sought.

Paul Aucoin’s sympathetic score—deftly altering instrumentation with each incident—is as subliminal as it is effective (yes, mallets and spokes do go together).

Taking a good-natured jibe at Toronto film festivals (and their over-zealous patrons, one of whom sat beside me during the previous screening of Agrarian Utopia) is simultaneously bold and hilarious.

Let’s give Adilman the keys to the vault and see if this first effort can be sustained and upped into a longer form.

Jimmy having Halloween envy

White on Rice
Dave Boyle
2009, 85 min.
Three stars

Sketchy comedy delivers son fun

Anyone who’s had the pleasure of seeing Tokyo Sonata (cross-reference below) might be excused for having a large case of narrative déjà vu as Boyle’s comedy begins to delight the ear with first-rate solo piano excerpts (Brian Holman performing the off-camera honours with surety and balance). For the rest, the plot twists centering on Bob, the youngest of the cast (Justin Kwong makes the most of the engaging part and should be encouraged to pursue a career—even at his tender age, already demonstrates a savvy sense of line timing and droll looks that make his scenes a constant pleasure) will amuse, amaze and affect even as the main stage is held by another.

Director Boyle, sharing the writing credit with Joel Clark, has created a film that rightly and shamelessly focuses on Hiroshi Watanabe’s comedic gifts (Samurai warrior, dumped husband, infatuated just-turned-40, dinosaur devotee and professional mooch are just a few of the personas that lurk in Jimmy’s inner-being) but seems content to let a series of largely self-contained sketches serve his star’s skills rather than weave a quilt of situations that grows like a comedic tsunami following the blood-spattered seismic blast of the opening’s fun-loving decapitation.

The supporting cast (Nae as the blindly devoted sister; Mio Takada plays her older husband who’s as unsuccessful putting the passion of his horsehair bow back into his violin as his imagination-delighting, short-haired instrument into his spouse; Lynn Chen smiles demurely through Jimmy’s unwanted, unstoppable advances with more blush-on than blush; her ex, James Kyson Lee, bubbles easily back into her life, only to thwart Jimmy’s unrequited lust—Lee looks great but his character development is especially bland) serve more as props than people with purpose.

Mark Schulz’s original score and the covey of set pieces (American rah-rah marches appear when Japanese Jimmy apparently succeeds in his adoptive country; a plaintive “Miserere” during one of several Walter Mitty sequences as Jimmy visits his arch enemy’s final resting place; solo piano from Bach to Satie to Grappelli-like jazz) are a most welcome bonus to the hit-and-miss encounters.

To be sure, there are many genuine laughs even as a few unwelcome lines (the emergency room doc’s stereotypical observation falls deservedly flat) and needless surprises (several frames of pumpkin carnage feel out of place) confuse the direction and subtext of Boyle’s intent.

Come for the fun, but stay for the musical offerings. JWR

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Director - Dave Boyle
Writers - Dave Boyle, Joel Clark
Cinematography - Bill Otto
Original Music - Mark Schulz
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