Tom Huang’s feature film debut “Find Me” remains a favorite indie film of mine and now with his sophomore film “Dealing with Dad,” Huang polishes his edges, refines his themes and brings us yet another universal story—dealing with an aging parent who is depressed.
Margaret Chang (Ally Maki) is a smart, savvy, assertive working mom who is estranged from her parents. Learning that her father isn’t doing well, Margaret coordinates efforts to help with her brother Roy (Peter Kim) and younger brother Larry (Hayden Szeto) who still lives at home. This good-hearted deed will not go unpunished as we see this Asian-American family’s dysfunction get in the way.
“Dealing with Dad” is one of those films that has characters we can all relate to—the penny pinching mom who brushes everything rug, the brutally honest aunt, a brother who just can’t grow up, and another who wallows in self pity (and donuts). And then, of course, there’s the daughter, Margaret, who is the epitome of a woman who is still struggling with unresolved issues with her father as well as herself. With humor and love, we see Margaret find her way in life but not without several bumps in the road, many of which make us laugh, and all of which endear us to her.
Huang has a signature style of filmmaking as he finds a way to bring personal issues into a story with humorous and poignancy. Creating a family whose children are first generation Americans brings its own dynamic to the group. Huang then embeds in this tale how difficult it is to not only grow up and see our parents and our siblings for who they have become, but to also see our parents for who they used to be…the people who had lives and adventures long before you knew them as Mom and Dad; the people who sacrificed their hopes and dreams when they did earn that title and name that would stay with them forever; the people that aren’t perfect. But when you can see them from a new perspective, you also see yourself differently and that is what Huang shows us with “Dealing with Dad.”
To create what feels like a simple story but what is actually a rather complicated one complete with layers of humor takes just the right cast and Huang has found them. Maki shines in her role. We love her from the first scene as she takes charge in her son’s classroom parent meeting. She creates a fractured character who eventually binds all the pieces together as she juggles financial issues, a husband her family doesn’t respect, and the inherent racism of her parents toward their own grandson. There are heartbreaking moments, resentment, and yearnings for a different relationship with her family members and Maki finds the empathic ability to create a realistic Margaret.
Both Peter Kim (Roy) and Hayden Szeto (Larry) add the elements of humor in this family dynamic. Kim’s forlorn reactions to his wife’s divorce papers and how he reacts to his mother’s blind date for him is priceless. And Szeto fills the screen with his personality to give us more than comedy; he gives us someone we know. Page Leong takes on the role of the Mom with incredible ease as she utters dialogue in not-so-perfect English that will make your jaw drop. While you’re picking it up, she’s already on to her next line, completely unaffected by what she just said. She brings a level of credibility to her role that connects all of “the kids” to create that family.
Of course, “Dealing with Dad” has to have the perfect Dad and it does with Dana Lee as the depressed and difficult father. Huang adds a level of depth to this character as we see Dad in flashbacks as he interacts with his daughter. We also discover cultural differences and expectations when it comes to girls and to being the oldest.
Huang’s “Dealing with Dad” just may allow you to see yourself or your family just a little differently while it entertains and makes you laugh. Relationships are difficult and families can be crazy, but seeing the Chang family work through their issues may help open the doors of communication for yours.
“Dealing with Dad” will be the closing night film for the Asian American Showcase with Huang in attendance. To purchase your tickets, go to Siskel Film Center
3 1/2 stars