Directed by: Tom Huang
Distributed by: TBA
Written by Patrick Hao
Writer-director Tom Huang’s personal piece “Dealing with Dad” is a frustrating movie to watch. It focuses on the issues that first-generation Taiwanese American children have with their stern, domineering fathers. It is well-trodden territory that is made even more beguiling by the fact that it is made like a straight-to-Netflix Tyler Perry movie. Even the good actors that populate Huang’s movies are reduced to one-note stiff performances due to the bad sitcom writing and no sense of filmic style.
The film follows the classic structure of three adult siblings coming back to their childhood home to deal with a family issue, resurfacing old tensions and reverting back to childhood tendencies – a classic film trope. This time, the patriarch (Dana Lee) is suffering from a deep depression that has reduced him to an almost catatonic state. His children tasked with taking care of him include Margaret (Ally Maki), the perfectionist daughter whose complex stems from her trying to seek approval from her father, Roy (Peter Kim), a recent divorcee, and Larry (Hayden Szeto), an unemployed ne’er-do-well who is stuck spewing pop culture lines. Huang really tries to capture all the tropes and possibilities of the immigrant children’s playbook.
While the film deals with topics that ring true to life, there doesn’t seem to be anything authentic within the film. The three children are woven into their specific tropes which capture in broad strokes the gamut of “the Asian American Experience™”.
In an attempt to be funny, “Dealing with Dad” often falls into the Seth Meyers joke structure of comparing something to a pop culture reference. There is a riff on Margaret not seeing “The Godfather” that would have felt old in 1995, let alone 2022. The film is also shot with overblown lighting like it were a sitcom, with nothing more interesting than shot – a reverse shot. With the writing and filmmaking as un-dynamic as this, it’s hard to not become frustrated by the film’s attempts at emotional manipulation.
“Dealing with Dad” has become a symptom of a larger problem in Asian American art. It seems like the only stories that people want to tell are the capital “S” struggle of being an immigrant child because those are the stories that can break through and make money. Ang Lee and Wayne Wang were making tender and emotionally ripe films about this very subject in the 1990s. But, it seems like this new generation cannot go beyond this intergenerational conflict, like a van stuck whose wheels are stuck in the mud.
“Dealing with Dad” is too small a movie to make any real impact on the culture. Maybe those who find it will find some solace in its overbroad depiction of complicated family dynamics. But, I think that Asian American filmmaking must grow beyond this. We are more dynamic than people with overbearing parents that have been reduced to infantilized versions of ourselves. Once we realize that we will make deeper and richer films.