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The Popcorn Reel Movie Review: "Falling For Grace"

By Omar P.L. Moore/July 20, 2007

East Broadway
Earnest efforts at love: Gale Harold as Andrew Barrington, Jr., and Fay Ann Lee as Grace, in Miss Lee's feature film directing debut film, "Falling For Grace", which opened in San Francisco today in its North American theatrical debut.  The film opens in Washington, D.C. on August 3.  (Photo: Slowhand Cinema Releasing)

"Falling For Grace" is an admirable effort by Fay Ann Lee, her first, a labor of love that took ten years to get to the big screen.  For effort and sheer determination and force of will, Miss Lee deserves an "A". 

The film, formerly called "East Broadway", premiered last year at New York City's Tribeca Film Festival.  "Falling For Grace" is about Grace (played by the director), a woman whose desire to become a socialite on the Upper East Side of New York is accelerated after she assumes the name of Grace Tang, an heiress fashion designer from Hong Kong.  This deliberate faux pas allows her to meet Andrew Barrington, Jr. (Gale Harold from "Queer As Folk") a Camelot-like (read: J.F.K., Jr.) Manhattan prosecutor dedicated to closing down sweatshops in the Chinatown district in the Big Apple.  At stake for Grace is acceptance.  She is a success in the field of investment banking for a corporate firm and is a lifeline to her endearing family (the parents are played by Clem Cheung and Elizabeth Sung) which resides in Chinatown, especially her younger brother Ming (played by Ken Leung).  But she wants more.  Her moorings are in the field of love, but that love is something she wants to share with a special someone.  For Andrew there is also something at stake: nailing the case (which involves clothing designed by and proving to his upper-crust business magnate father Andrew Sr. (Roger Rees), that the practice of law is more than just a business or a competition, and marrying Kay, the woman of his dreams (Stephanie March, last seen on the big screen in "The Treatment".)

"Falling For Grace" has some characters who stir mild interest: Christine Baranski as Bree, Andrew's mother (who has a funny, but bitingly painful line that reveals the character's prejudices), Margaret Cho as Grace's good friend Janie, as well as the character played by B.D. Wong.  The biggest standout however, is Ken Leung, whose performance is the one that resonates throughout the film.  As the troubled Ming, Mr. Leung's anguish is written all over his face in intense looks.  He is hurting. 

The film however, while containing a great performance by Mr. Leung, is also hurting, for it is in need of further shaping and molding.  "Falling" looks like a rough cut edition.  A few more lines of dialogue and tighter editing, with better camera composition and performances, would have made "Falling For Grace" a more engaging experience.  The film's surrounding characters are more interesting than its two leads, whose acting performances are below par for the writing (by Miss Lee and Karen Rousso) which itself only occasionally merits a chuckle.  Unfortunately, the audience cares little whether Grace and Andrew meet their objectives or ever meet their romantic makers, and by the time the end arrives the film has been an unremarkable experience.  "Falling For Grace" deserves better -- but it needed more time to develop.  Ten years is certainly a long time, but how long can one wait, and then again, how quickly can one go forward?  Can Miss Lee really be blamed here?  Had she rushed this film into the can within a few weeks of it being filmed, she would justifiably be ripe for criticism.  But sometimes things just don't come together.  Even cameos from New York City's recognizable cognoscenti (the kind usually found inside Elaine's on the Upper East Side of Manhattan) can't save this film from falling by the wayside.

Miss Lee has to be praised for her drive and resilience, but "Falling For Grace" needed more seasoning.  You root hard for her and her film, but root even harder for a film with a solid structure, tighter editing and stronger acting.

"Falling For Grace" is rated PG-13 for language by the Motion Picture Association of America.  The film's duration is one hour and 41 minutes.  With Ato Essandoh (he played the quietly intense silent doorman in the film "Prime", starring Uma Thurman and Meryl Streep.)  

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