Acting anymore is a rich person’s game. For example, you can note the football Giant’s owners’ kids Rooney and Kate Mara in leading or prominent roles. While they may have skills, they can also wait out the rejections eating better meals than canned chickpeas or beans day after day. Actors without the golden carriage must pick-up odd jobs that allow for enough flexibility to abandon if the right audition presents itself. Not being white adds another layer of fodder to navigate. Despite the melting pot in America and especially NYC, representations of white people pervade the cinematic, theatrical, and media landscape. This is the world that Sophie played by Joyce Wu (also the writer & director) finds herself confronting in She Lights Up Well (2014).
There is an insider’s eye to how Wu depicts readings and the charades maintained. In a quick illuminating scene, Wu hits home the odious burden of student debt, makeshift meals, and the unfortunate sides of having a cheap apartment with limited sound proofing. Surviving in NYC is a bleak prospect. It is no surprise that retreating to the parental nest offers a marginal improvement even if ghosts of the past attempt to shame one in the unsettled phase. Almost immediately from the airport, Grandma portrayed by Tsai Chin (The Joy Luck Club, The Interpreter, Casino Royale among other productions) requests to be dropped off at a community center for Gilbert & Sullivan‘s Mikado rehearsals. Sophie’s desire to perform clearly was a case of nature and nurture.
Too often, a retreat to suburbia seeks to highlight the integrity found in people in contrast to NYC’s vipers and overall emotional void. Another easy trope is to have the protagonist find a companion to soften the transition time period then influence her/his goal. Wu smartly avoids these predictable trappings. Her commentary in the form of character exchanges reveal the hypocrisy and malfeasance that are part of people anywhere in the quest of either power or desperation to begin anew. Instead of the heroine building her confidence via didacticism (i.e., The Intern), Sophie crusades for her grandmother’s theater group that ultimately allows her to enact an agency that had been lacking in NYC. Her own artistry and intelligence find fertile ground in Detroit.
Peeling back the pretense, Sophie, her grandmother, and the other players harness the creativity and enthusiasm for the acting profession that reaffirms Sophie’s passion. Reclaiming a sense of self also translates to how to tackle the stereotype laden Mikado.
Omitting further plot points to allow for audience enjoyment.
Looking forward to viewing more of Wu’s projects as her voice is refreshing, sharp, and compassionate.