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Dwayne and his older sister Mai are adults: Mai is married to Vinh, Dwayne is about to propose to Nina. Twenty-two years ago, when Mai was 10, she and Dwayne were refugees in Vietnam, adopted by Harold and Dee Williams, African-Americans from Los Angeles. Now, they remain close, especially Dwayne and his parents. Mai drops a bomb: she's located their birth mother, Thahn, and she's flying her to LA. Dee takes the news hard: she sees herself being replaced. Harold is more sanguine, and Dwayne pretends to be indifferent. When Thahn arrives, tensions reach the breaking point between Mai and Dee, between Nina and Dwayne, and even between Dee and Harold. Can we all get along? Written by
Catfish is a delightful independent film that allows its audience to experience both emotional extremes from laughter to tears. The story is about a childless African American couple (Harold and Delores Williams) who have adopted and successfully reared two Vietnamese children. The couple wonderfully played by Mary Alice and Paul Winfield bring their many years of rich believable acting experience to the screen. The son Dwayne played by writer/director Chi Moui Lo has fully assimilated in the African American culture with his adoptive parents and is dating the lovely Nina played by Sanaa Lathan. The daughter Mai played by Lauren Tom has not assimilated and is seeking to fulfill her inner emptiness by finding her Vietnamese mother. The story line begins with Dwayne comedically trying to find a means to ask the beautiful but less than romantic Nina to marry him. During a cookout at his parents Dwayne fumbles through a public marriage proposal to Nina that is followed by Mai's announcement that she has found their birth mother and is bringing her to America. The plot thickens, as Delores Williams must come to grips with her motherhood as she faces the possibility of losing Mai whom she has never been emotionally close to as well as her beloved Dwayne.
Each character of the movie is poignantly forced to reexamine their own identity as well as his / her heartstring relationships with others when the Vietnamese birth mother Thanh played by Kieu Chinh brings her overbearing opinionated personality to the apparently stable extended family. Thanh basically steps in on anybody to gain the control of the motherhood to her children that she has lost the past 20 years. She seeks to win the affections of Dwayne as well as break off his engagement to Nina because she feels she has lost him both affectionately and culturally, but she disrespects and rudely ignores the needy Mai whom she feels she has already won over.
Choi as director somewhat effectively uses flash backs to the past and imaginary images of the future to bring us the audience into what is going on in his head. A weird comedic subplot is somewhat developed between Dwayne and his roommate who is dating a transsexual male. This and all of the other conflicts are drawn together into one big catfight between Thanh and Delores. Each person must choose sides or loyalties during and following the fight. The most touching moment for me in the film was the reconciliation between Delores and Mai which is precipitated through their mutual love for Harold and his well being. (A tearjerker moment) Alls well that ends well, each character handles their conflict and comes to grips with what true love and family is all about. Overall I must say that the movie was worth the $5.50 I paid. I didn't get bored or go to sleep even though the audience consisted of me and one other person. We both commented at the end that it was a pretty good movie.
For the, Sanaa Lathan fans, we again have her playing the girlfriend, of the main character and she does get respectable screen time. Nina the character she plays in this film does not have much depth or real earth shattering dialogue. Nevertheless Sanaa works with what she has very well. You get the down home naturally beautiful Sanaa that looks good in jeans and tennis shoes or anything else she chooses to wear, to me it always looks respectful and appropriate for her body style. She is tasked to play a hard working, not so touchy feely romantic but committed girlfriend for the self-esteem lacking Dwayne. He loves her but can't seem to understand what such a beautiful woman could want with a short man such as himself. (The farce is I was wondering the same thing) His self-doubt and conflicts with his mother leads him to break off the engagement with Nina. The breakup occurs as Nina has tried to adjust her romantic style and be more attentive to Dwayne based on a sly Thanh prompted remark made by Mai. Maybe it's the feistiness that she plays so well that I was looking for. Sanaa seems to have a lot of energy and passion; it appears to me that she never really personally connected with this character although she does not flub the role. Sanaa's strong black woman roles in the Love and Basketball, Best Man and even Drive in which she is not allowed to shed tears over a man (especially in his presence) on screen although her heart is visibly in conflict is a different type from this character. This character gets to cry on screen, which Sanaa handles immaculately but I just did not feel that can of passion that she can open up so well during those scenes. As always I enjoyed watching Sanaa on the big screen and when I get a chance I will go back to catch what I missed the first time about Catfish in Black Bean Sauce. 3 1/2 stars out of 5.
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