“Confetti” – Finding the colors [MOVIE REVIEW]
Ann Hu drew from personal experience when she wrote and directed “Confetti” about her own child’s dyslexia. Hu’s film is heartfelt and sincere, tackling a difficult and abstract problem, but it never really takes off.
Lan, a mother with a secret, works as a janitor at her daughter Meimei’s school. Meimei, age 8, the brunt of the other children’s jokes, can neither read nor write. Her English teacher, an American named Thomas, recognizes the problem. Meimei has dyslexia, an unknown diagnosis in China, one for which there are no programs or solutions. Lan, determined that her daughter have a “normal” life, decides to take her to New York where Thomas has educational contacts. Packing up their meager belongings, Lan leaves behind her loving husband who reluctantly supports her in this endeavor. He secretly knows that this is as much about Meimei as it is about Lan who has tried to hide her illiteracy from him since the beginning of their relationship.
Meimei, with a little bit of English, and Lan, with none, arrive at the apartment of Thomas’s friend, Helen McClellan, a writer working on her next book. She’s more than upset with Thomas for misleading her about the functional abilities of both Meimei and her mother. But, stalwart that she is, she helps them on their journey to finding the right program for Meimei. As they all discover, Meimei is very bright but may have the further hindrance of a genetically based dyslexia that defies almost all therapeutic approaches.
This is a nice little film, although that is damning it with faint praise. Hu tells a story with compassion but one that is ultimately not compelling. The facts are straightforward. Dyslexia throughout much of the world is a recognized disability with programs that try to work around a misfiring brain that turns letters upside down and sideways. It is believed that 10% of the population are affected by dyslexia. China, where few have even heard of the term, (“Dyslexia Around the World: A Snapshot” by Nancy Mather, Jennifer White, and Martha Youman. Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal, Volume 25, Number 1, 2020), has only one center in the whole country to deal with this learning disability.
Much of the film revolves around the difficulty of finding a program for Meimei. After undergoing testing by sympathetic psychologist Dr. Thurman, he points out that 10% of those with dyslexia have a serious genetic predisposition and may never learn to read. What he does discover is that Meimei, a very bright child, has other characteristics that might compensate in her learning. He also prods Lan into admitting that she has hidden her illiteracy all her life. She too is dyslexic.
Zhu Zhu as Lan pulls your sympathy to her as the single-focused mother. Amy Irving, Helen McClellan the writer who harbors them, grows from annoyed to empathetic as their anchor in a new environment. But it is Harmonie He as Meimei who shines. Joyful, adorable, alert, mischievous, and engaging, she is the perfect center for this movie.
It’s difficult to make a compelling film about finding a school for a child who has been left behind. Hu doesn’t squander screen time; she makes full use of her wonderful cast; and she maintains focus on the central theme of finding “normalcy” for a child who may never be normal in educational terms. Like I said, a nice little film.
Opens August 20 at the Lumière Beverly Hills, the Laemmle Monica, the Laemmle Playhouse in Pasadena, and the Laemmle Town Center in Encino.
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