Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB
USA/Canada, 2021. Entertainment One, MACRO. Screenplay by Justin Chon. Cinematography by Ante Cheng, Matthew Chuang. Produced by Justin Chon, Poppy Hanks, Charles D. King, Kim Roth. Music by Roger Suen. Production Design by Bo-Kyung Sin. Costume Design by Eunice Jera Lee. Film Editing by Reynolds Barney.
Justin Chon directs and stars as Antonio LeBlanc, a man who has what feels like the weight of the whole world on his shoulders. In the film’s opening scene he is trying to get a second job to help support his wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander), who is about to give birth to their second child, but he can’t get hired anywhere because of his criminal record. His main job at a tattoo parlour isn’t enough to keep them going, so Vikander goes back to work as a physical therapist while avoiding the threats of her cop ex-husband Ace (Mark O’Brien) who is the biological father of her first child but who walked out on them years ago.
When O’Brien and his partner Denny (Emory Cohen, overdoing his one note as always) make trouble for Antonio in a supermarket and the situation gets out of hand, Antonio is arrested and before he can get out on bail is transferred to ICE, who announce that he is going to be deported. As someone who was adopted as a small child after being brought to America from Korea, Antonio has never known any other place, the dreams we see involving his biological mother are impressions and have nothing to do with his personal identity.
Consulting with a lawyer on the matter, however, the couple learn that his legal situation is a vulnerable one and the government could easily go through with its plan to send him to what they don’t realize is, for him, a foreign land. The stress it places on this couple, which is not helped by legal costs prompting Antonio back into a life of crime, and Ace amping up his threats thanks to his fear that Kathy could leave the country with his daughter, eventually fractures this little family, which is devastating for little Jessie (Sydney Kowalske), who has come to love her stepfather as her own. The only grace that Antonio experiences through this situation is the perspective he gets from a kind stranger (Linh Dan Pham) going through her own life-threatening situation.
The end credits give us a roll call of real-life cases of Americans who have been deported or are awaiting the possibility of such thanks to their not being subject to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, and we understand that this was the inspiration to tell this remarkably dramatic tale of an already overwhelmed family being torn apart by a conservative government’s ridiculous notion of homeland security. Admirable intentions indeed, but Chon’s sense of the dramatic runs to the ridiculously overstated and oversimplified at every turn, he piles on the challenges with no sense of intelligent spontaneity and indulges himself in contrived manipulation in order to squeeze the heartstrings until they choke.
A few moments are lovely, the cinematography is picturesque in the dream sequences and evocative when showing the ugly side of New Orleans life, but most of its elements feel lifted and canned from other films, from the winsome child star performance by Kowalskie to the overstated gracefulness of Vikander’s character (and it doesn’t help that the Swedish actress doesn’t convince as American).
Pham gives the film’s strongest performance, she at least alleviates the perpetual misery on display, but she can’t help her subplot falling into overripe symbolism either, and a last-minute attempt to capture something complicated from Antonio’s squaring off with his long-estranged foster mother fails to deliver the goods.