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Arts and Entertainment

Movie Review: White On Rice

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Monkey business in White On Rice. Photo courtesy mPRm.

When you hear the phrase “the Japanese Step Brothers” used to describe a movie, you’re probably a least a little interested. That is, if you’re anything like me, but you probably aren’t because my parents say I’m one in a million, so eat it. Not that the American version of Step Brothers is all that spectacular, it’s just that imagining the role of an inept, aging, homebody loser being played by a Japanese man is - intriguing. And Jimmy, the comic lead in White On Rice, certainly is all of the things described above - but this movie is no Step Brothers.

And, actually, that’s a good thing. Because despite the initial similarities, White On Rice is much closer to a Punch Drunk Love or even Last Chance Harvey, in its fish-out-of-water, shy love simplicity. But enough about other movies; White On Rice deserves to stand alone because, despite its directorial issues and questionable storytelling, it’s actually not that bad.

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In essence, White On Rice is the small tale of an equally small man, Jimmy, who has come to America to live with his sister following a divorce. He is bumbling, socially awkward, and generally a problem to Tak, the current head of the household. But Tak’s son Bob doesn’t seem to mind so much, and a good portion of the rest of the world just sort of puts up with him. That is, until Tak’s niece Ramona moves in too, and Jimmy becomes blinded by emotional sparks that only he can see. As the film bubbles quietly along, Jimmy discovers his nemesis, Tim, and goes to misguided lengths to prove himself a normal member of society - and a worthy husband.

And that’s basically it, really. You get the sense in White On Rice that everything is going to work out in one way or another, and it does. There’s no big heart-wrenching moments and few bits of actual laugh-out-loud comedy, but there’s something warm and familiar about middle of the road fare. It’s smoother here, and everybody knows where you’re going. If there are any bumps, they rest with writer / director Dave Boyle, who really makes some odd choices in the final storytelling and editing. There are little moments throughout the film, short scenes (the reemergence of the waiter, getting into a fight with his Russian girlfriend) that don’t serve the ultimate purpose of the film at all. In fact, they sort of take you out of it for a moment, and make you reexamine your surroundings to be sure you’re still watching the same film. Then things either shift back into the flow that makes most of the movie so comfortable, or the incongruous scene attempts to tie up its own loose ends in some clumsy way. Perhaps Boyle is really trying to keep anything funny from hitting the cutting room floor (and the Russian girlfriend scene IS funny), but it hurts the pacing and timing of the film as a whole.

The acting isn’t phenomenal, with Lynn Chen and James Kyson Lee the only ones playing at a high level (that is, except for that damn waiter). And there’s nothing particularly outstanding about the way White On Rice looks, sounds, or leaves you once you watch it. But if you’ve got a bucket of popcorn and a Sunday afternoon, there are plenty of worse things you could be waiting in line to see. For simple, mindless fun that isn’t being tossed your way by MTV or Bravo, go grab a large Diet Coke and sit in with White On Rice.

White On Rice is currently playing at Laemmle's Sunset 5.