As I finish up this review series, I’d like to review one of my all-time favorite LGBTQ-themed films: Saving Face (2004, dir. Alice Wu)
Michelle Krusiec stars as Wil, a successful New York surgeon. Having grown up in a traditional Chinese-American community, Wil is fiercely closeted about being a lesbian and tolerates her mother’s matchmaking attempts. When Wil meets Vivian (Lynn Chen), a dancer and the daughter of Wil’s boss, the two begin a tentative romance.
But Wil’s life is disrupted when her mother, Gao (Joan Chen), shows up on her doorstep. To Wil’s shock, her conservative, widowed mother has been kicked out of her family home because she’s pregnant out of wedlock. Gao refuses to admit who the father of her child is, and struggles with whether to regain social respectability by marrying a man she doesn’t love. Wil, meanwhile, struggles to keep her relationship with Vivian a secret, and her fear of openness threatens to drive Vivian away. But while having her mother living in her apartment may be the last thing Wil wanted, it turns out that the two might have more common ground than they realized.
Saving Face is a funny, charming story about generational divides, culture clashes, and mother-daughter relationships. While it’s a great lesbian movie, and the relationship between Wil and Vivian is delightful to root for, the real joy is Joan Chen’s performance as Gao, who breaks out of the overbearing mother archetype to become a triumphant co-protagonist in her own right. The greatest surprise of the film is how much Gao and Wil learn from and help each other in spite of their initial conflicts. Saving Face is a joy to watch from beginning to end.