“Confetti” is a pleasantly syrupy “a mother’s love” wish fulfillment fantasy, a story of how far one Chinese mom will travel to get her child the educational help she needs.
Writer-director Ann Hu’s film may play as far-fetched, sometimes extremely so. But that’s what “wish fulfillment fantasies” traffic in — the implausible making impossible dreams come true.
We meet the adorable moppet Meimei (Harmonie He) on her first day in school in a small city in China. Her mother Chen Lan (Zhu Zhu of TV’s “Marco Polo”) watches her during that first day, listening through the window when she can.
“Tiger Mom?” You bet. She’s also the school custodian. And she grimaces at her child’s difficulties, the cruel teasing of her classmates. Meimei can’t read or write and seems unable to keep up. “You should look for other options,” the callous principal says (in Chinese with English subtitles). “Your daughter’s not a normal kid. Just accept it.”
But Meimei’s American-born English teacher (George C. Tronsrue) picks up what she’s seeing in the English alphabet and is more encouraging. She “learns differently.” He uses this word the family has never heard — “dyslexia.” And if there are no schools in China that could help, he knows there are some in America, in New York where he came from.
There’s nothing for it but for Chen Lan to take her to America. But she and her tailor husband (Yanan Li) are poor. Chen Lan has no marketable skills, only a vague notion of joining the cousin of a friend at a New York “clothing factory” (sweatshop).
Where will they get the money for them to fly over? Teacher Thomas may arrange for them to stay with a friend, but how will they manage, with the costs of living in New York, the language barrier, all of it?
“Wish fulfillment fantasy” implies a certain “magical thinking” to all this. The costs aren’t considered, and Meimei is some sort of savant when it comes to learning English. She can translate for Mom.
Their hostess, a wheelchair-bound writer (Amy Irving) is skeptical about their quest, and about how useful they’ll be in her life, paying for their room and board with “help” she doesn’t think they’re capable of as they don’t speak English and have Chinese (slurping) table manners.
And the public school that accepts immigrant Meimei, no questions asked, may flatter itself in being “special needs” friendly. But Meimei is not improving and Mom is getting more frantic about it getting “too late” to make her daughter “normal.”
Of course there’s a pricey private school (Helen Slater plays the principal) that would be better.
Hu, who directed “Beauty Remains” and “Shadow Magic,” just waves her directorial wand at some of the natural, believable obstacles facing mother and daughter in this strange, expensive land, at the father and husband left behind. Voila, the problems are “solved” or simply ignored.
There’s value in movies that depict America as still-welcoming of immigrants in these divisive times, but “Confetti” (the title has to do with how Meimei sees letters, and processes information) rubs almost all the edges off.
That makes for a dramatically less dramatic story than this might have been. The odd interesting peek inside China’s mass production, assimilation-oriented educational system, a cute quip about “You know Chinese parents” from a Chinese-American tween who “translates” for their first principal and a testy, hubristic dig about “America is ranked 36th in the world in education” from a Chinese principal are the most interesting moments.
Zhu Zhu’s “Chinese parent” scenes have some edge and America-judging impatience about them.
But Hu is too often content to have psychologists and educators rattle off lists of names of people known or thought to have dyslexia, or show the little girl’s instant grasp of English, mastery of personal computers and the like.
I wish this wish-fulfillment educational fantasy had been realistic enough to make me invest in the characters and doubt the outcome of their hopeless quest, just a little.
Cast: Zhu Zhu, Amy Irving, Harmonie He, Yanan Li, George C. Tronsrue and Helen Slater
Credits: Scripted and directed by Ann Hu. A Dada Films release.
Running time: 1:29