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Smart but Boring

By Brian Prisco | Film | August 20, 2010 |

By Brian Prisco | Film | August 20, 2010 |

Tze Chun wrote and directed Children of Invention and it’s a decent movie, particularly for a first-time filmmaker. But I didn’t care for it. It’s on Netflix Instant, and of all the new releases, it was the highest recommended to me, although I’m beginning to doubt Netflix’s recommendation service. It assumes that because I watch mostly foreign flicks and documentaries on Netflix that a slow-moving, aimless movie about not much of anything must be in my wheelhouse. (Seriously: Anyone else have any pet peeves about the Netflix Recommendations?)

The film is as the synopsis describes: A semi-autobiographical tale about a family that’s evicted from their home and forced to squat in a model apartment in an unfinished Boston building. When the mother, Elaine (Cindy Cheung), is arrested for her accidental involvement in a pyramid scheme, the children, Raymond (Michael Chen) and Tina (Crystal Chiu) are left to fend for themselves, which entails taking the subway to an ATM in Chinatown so they can withdraw cash for food.

That’s the extent of the movie; there are no twists are dramatic turns in Children of Invention. The acting is superb, especially from the two first-time child actors. Unfortunately, for all the slow pacing and the indie drama music™, there’s very little emotional depth. You may briefly feel a rise of anger in the notion that the mother — in the States on an expired work visa — is being taken advantage of by a pyramid scheme, but that’s ultimately not what the movie is about. The pyramid scheme is a contrivance used to get the two children alone so we can applaud them for navigating the Boston subway system (no easy feat).

It’s a film full of quiet moments, and while I have nothing against elliptical scenes, there isn’t much subtext to the silence. If the movie had a clear point to make about about immigration, a broken system, or the impracticality of the American Dream, I could cut it some slack. As it is, it’s just about two children eating soup in a cup after their vulnerable immigrant mother is swindled by an unethical company. It’s a sweet, well-made film — modest and restrained; it’s just not very interesting.