Monday, June 16, 2014

A Picture of You: Family, Grief, and TMI

These days, getting one’s affairs in order should include a digital component, as two grown siblings learn in vivid terms. When cleaning out their late mother’s house, the brother and sister find something that throws them for a loop. Their already testy relationship gets even tenser in J.P. Chan’s feature directorial debut, A Picture of You (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Kyle was there during their mother’s long treatment and hospitalization, but Jen was largely absent. Kyle noticed. As they start packing, they argue over everything including how much tape to use on each box. The imminent arrival of Jen’s close friend Mika and Doug, her computer geek boyfriend itching to propose, at least promises to give them a bit of a break from each other. However, when they inadvertently stumble across something very private it thoroughly freaks them out. Of course, it will not stop them from bickering.

 Sounds excruciating, right? However, Chan’s light touch deftly avoids the excesses of sentimentality and quirkiness that has probably set off your Spidey sense. Chan has already built a reputation on the festival circuit for his short films, including the inventive science fiction outing Digital Antiquities, featured as part of ITVS’s Futurestates. Although they sound worlds removed from each other, they happen to share some common themes and motifs.

Both films also feature Chan’s frequent collaborator, Jo Mei, who co-wrote APOY, as well. As Jen, she is nobody’s push-over, but there is an earthy allure to her caustic attitude. She still projects the smart, tough screen presence that served Antiquities so well. Just as Chan carefully calibrates the film’s tone, Andrew Pang finely modulates Kyle’s simmering resentments, making him a mostly sympathetic figure rather than a pill. Lucas Dixon’s Doug is also likable enough, wisely refraining from cringey goofiness. Yet, no one can match the class and grace Jodi Long lends the film as the mother only seen briefly in flashbacks.

Indeed, just about all APOY’s characters feel like real people, or at least close enough for government work. Chan and company play it pretty straight, but there are flashes of biting wit peppered throughout. In fact, Chan slyly subverts lazy politically correct assumptions in several of Jen and Kyle’s less than gracious exchanges with the predominantly white rural Pennsylvania neighbors.

Fans of Antiquities would love to see a feature treatment of its world and characters, but APOY is still an impressive maiden feature. It is a mature, forgiving film with more than its share of deeply resonate dialogue. Recommended for those who appreciate small ensemble dramas, A Picture of You opens this Friday (6/20) in New York at the AMC Village 7.