The Joy Luck Club (1993)

OK, I’ll admit to being a pussy and confess that I teared up during this movie.

I think I’m comfortable enough in my pussiness not to resist getting swept up in weepy moments of a film.

But I’d much rather tear up from something in a story resonating with my experience than from being manipulated by a scene full of sobbing.

What’s the difference? Well, take “Two Cathedrals” from the second season of The West Wing. President Bartlett tears into God, calling him a feckless bastard. Bartlett doesn’t shed a single tear in that scene, but man — was I a teary-eyed motherfucker through it.

Unfortunately for The Joy Luck Club, it too often tugs at the predictable heartstrings to wrench out said tears.

In every scene where a daughter and mother — doesn’t matter which generation — get emotional about their effect on each other, I didn’t really feel it. Yes, it was nice to get lost in really good acting — and there’s a lot of it to go around in The Joy Luck Club — but the voice in the back of my head kept telling me, “This really isn’t how it works for my kind of Asian family.”

Of course, you could read that last sentence as a Filipino kind of Asian family, but in reality, the filial piety is similar enough between Asian and Pacific cultures — the delivery would just be different. (See The Debut.)

But that wasn’t the only thing that dragged down this rather long film.

The voice-overs, while effective in allowing the story to jump in time, often interfered with the acting. Who really needs to know Ying-Ying is a tiger sitting in a tree waiting to leap into action? Lady, just tell your daughter to leave her husband.

Then there are those long face shots after leading dialogue that just seems implausible. How much more obvious can you get lost in thought?

Thing is, The Joy Luck Club doesn’t really follow a singular plot line. It’s not the kind of story that lends itself easily to film adaptation, and in reality, the way it was made is perhaps the best way it could have been without losing its overall tone.

I rented this DVD to determine whether I wanted to add it to my permanent collection, and I can’t say it will. Still, it’s essential viewing for anyone interested in Asian-American themes in film, and what Russell Wong does with that watermelon is worth those few seconds alone.