Coming of age stories are told very differently depending on locality. Coming of age for a New Yorker is very different experience than the comparable life event in Sedona, Arizona. That said I was expecting Model Minority, a Los Angeles version, to be multicultural, highly sexual and very gritty. I was not disappointed, it was. However, given it was written by an LA resident, filmed in LA, starring mostly LA-based actors, I was expecting an LA-style in its production, you know, the type of production that can make even East LA seem appealing. That’s where I was surprised. This is the most stripped down, honest and bare delivery I’ve seen for the genre. Definitely independent but almost to the point of being stealthy homemade.
An alcoholic father, a prescription addict mother and a neighborhood where a teenage girl is
not safe on the street after dark. This sets the stage for the two sisters, the older trying to fend for the younger, but neither are old enough to raise themselves. There’s a juxtaposition of the high expectations from the Japanese father and expected failure and disappointment from the White mother. All teens rebel but teens from families without suitable parenting tend to rebel in more severe ways with more dramatic results. How the story unfolds speaks to the problem and the consequence but only speculates on a solution, which is totally fair.
Lily Mariye, who you might better know from her 15 year stint on ER both wrote and produced this film. Mariye, who is of Asian ethnicity herself, seems to be deconstructing the mythical notion of Asians being ‘model minorities’. The screen play definitely speaks to the opposite and dismantles that notion but goes further to examine the forces of cultural upbringing and how they sometimes make no impact on environmental factors. It was a bold move for Mariye and the result was a resounding success from my perspective.
Acting from main protagonist played by Nicole Bloom is quite good. As the older sister, she finds herself caught between being a rebellious teen and being parent to her naive sister, alcoholic father and pill-addicted mother. Bloom was convincing at straddling both aspects, never giving into cliche reactions or settling on formulaic delivery of her dialogue.
The film does end on a slightly uplifting note however it arrives there only after delivering copious amounts of tension, tragedy and force-feeding the viewer hardball questions without reasonable answers. If you’re looking for a weighty, myth-busting piece that will likely cause some thinking, some good acting from virtually unknown actors and a view into Mariye’s talent beyond ER, Model Minority is a good watch.