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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Catfish in Black Bean Sauce (review)

If you’re someone who thinks you can choose your family, and that family is what we make it, then you’ll love this wonderfully charming dramedy. Harold and Dolores Williams (Paul Winfield: Strange Justice, and Mary Alice) adopted Mai (Lauren Tom) and Dwayne (Chi Muoi Lo) when they were only 10 and 6. That the Williamses were black and the kids Vietnamese refugees didn’t matter — Mai settled in as Daddy’s girl while Dwayne fell in love with his new mom. But now, 22 years later, Mai has found their birth mother, Thanh (Kieu Chinh), and brought her over to America. Dolores is afraid of losing her children to a stranger, and Thanh is afraid she’ll never get to know the children she lost. By turns whimsical and moving, Catfish touches on deeply emotional issues with refreshing and startling honesty: the fear that invariably accompanies love, both familial and romantic; the misunderstandings that parents and children let fester between themselves; and the politically incorrect notion that race doesn’t matter, especially when love is part of the equation. The first feature from writer/producer/director Lo, Catfish degenerates into a bit of a sitcom at one point, and the film is rough around the edges, awkwardly directed in spots. But its few and minor flaws are eminently forgivable. This is a warm, sweet film about the unconditional love and frustrating stress with which family provides us, and how we couldn’t live without either. Like The Joy Luck Club, the film it is closest to emotionally, it made me want to run right to the phone and call my mother to apologize for every rotten thing I’ve ever done or said to her.

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MPAA: rated PG-13 for brief strong language and sexual content

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
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