Review: ‘Dealing With Dad,’ starring Ally Maki, Hayden Szeto, Peter S. Kim, Dana Lee, Page Leong, Echo Kellum and Megan Gailey

June 2, 2023

by Carla Hay

Cast members of “Dealing With Dad.” Pictured in front row, from left to right: Dana Lee, Hayden Szeto, Ally Maki, Peter S. Kim and Caleb Mantuano. Pictured in back row, from left to right: Megan Gailey, Page Leong and Echo Kellum. (Photo by Steven Lam/1091 Pictures)

“Dealing With Dad”

Directed by Tom Huang

Some language in Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Milpitas, California, the comedy/drama film “Dealing With Dad” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people and African Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Three siblings in their 30s gather at their parents’ home, where their father is having depression issues, and long-simmering family resentments come to the surface.

Culture Audience: “Dealing With Dad” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in bittersweet dramedies about immigrant families, sibling rivalries, and how childhood experiences affect people through adulthood.

Ally Maki and Dana Lee in “Dealing With Dad” (Photo courtesy of 1091 Pictures)

“Dealing With Dad” is a generally entertaining dramedy about a specific family with universally relatable issues. Some of the jokes are a little corny, but the movie gets better as it goes along. Ally Maki gives an impressive performance as a Type-A perfectionist with daddy issues. “Dealing With Dad” does an overall capable job of balancing family drama and comedy.

Written and directed by Tom Huang, “Dealing With Dad” (which takes place mostly in Milpitas, California) has many of the predictable arguments and squabbles that are usually found in movies about family reunions where family members have long-held resentments and grudges. The family at the center of this story isn’t completely dysfunctional, but most of the family members have problems communicating openly and honestly with each other. They are forced to reckon with many of their issues when the family patriarch becomes bedridden with depression after being laid off from his accounting job.

Jialuo Chang (played by Dana Lee), an immigrant from Taiwan, is cranky and impatient with everyone around him. Jialuo’s self-confidence of being his household’s main financial provider gets a big blow after he becomes unemployed. It’s later revealed in the movie that Jialuo was verbally abusive and sometimes physically abusive to his three children when they were underage. Jialuo currently lives in Milpitas, California, in the same house where he and his wife raised their three American-born children during most of the kids’ childhoods.

Sophie Chang (played by Page Leong) is Jialuo’s often-demanding and judgmental wife, who is also an immigrant from Taiwan. Sophie is openly racist against people who aren’t Asian. She tells her children that she wants them to marry only Asian people. Sophie hides her racism by being smiling and polite to people whom she makes racist comments about behind their backs.

Margaret Chang-Atlas (played by Ally Maki) is an uptight, hard-driving business entrepreneur who likes to be in control of situations. Margaret is actually fearful of disappointing her parents, especially her father. Ironically, Margaret can be just as prickly and difficult with other people as her parents are with her. How much of a control freak is Margaret? There’s a scene in the movie where she and her two brothers are eating at a casual restaurant, and she cuts the food on the plate of the younger brother, as if he’s a helpless child.

Margaret knows her mother doesn’t approve of Margaret being married to an African American musician named Jeff Atlas (played by Echo Kellum), who does not have the type of career that Sophie and Jialuo think is suitable for a spouse. Sophie privately uses the derogatory term “half-breed” to describe Margaret and Jeff’s son Nick (played by Caleb Mantuano), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. But when Sophie is around Nick, she acts like a doting and loving grandmother.

Roy Chang (played by Peter S. Kim) is Margaret’s older brother. He works as a bank manager and is feeling down about his life because his wife Sherry is divorcing him. Roy doesn’t want the divorce and is hoping that he and Sherry can reconcile. He is also sensitive about his body size and gets defensive when his siblings make negative comments about the large portions of food that he eats.

Larry Chang (played by Hayden Szeto) is Margaret’s younger brother. He is 33 years old, a never-married bachelor, unemployed, and currently living with his parents. Larry is a self-described sci-fi nerd who spends a lot of his time and money on collecting sci-fi memorabilia and playing video games. Larry makes a small amount of money by selling his memorabilia at a local comic book/collectible store managed by Aaron (played by Ari Stidham), another sci-fi enthusiast. Larry owes Roy a certain amount of money that is not specified, but it’s enough money that causes Roy to resent Larry.

Jenny (played by Cindera Che) is Jialuo’s younger sister, who lives in Denver, but she goes to Milpitas after hearing about Jialuo’s mental health issues. For years, Jenny has been openly hostile or standoffish to Margaret, who doesn’t know why. During the course of the movie, the reason why is revealed.

Margaret and Roy both live far enough away from their parents that when they both find out that their father is bedridden, Roy and Margaret reluctantly take a plane ride to go to their parents’ home in Milpitas. Margaret’s husband and son don’t go with her. Before this family crisis, Margaret hadn’t talked to her parents in months.

The first half of “Dealing With Dad” is structured and written almost like a sitcom, with a bunch of family members making verbal zingers and lobbying sarcastic insults at each other. It starts to get very repetitive, but not completely boring. Jialuo has become very reclusive, so he is not seen for much of the movie. The three siblings are somewhat relieved that they don’t have to deal with Jialuo’s usual tryannical bossiness, but his wife Sophie causes a lot of drama.

There’s a subplot about Larry reconnecting with a goofy former high-school classmate named Sarah Schumer (played by Megan Gailey), who has recently moved back to the area after serving time in the Peace Corps. Larry has had a crush on Sarah since high school. She has many of the same interests as Larry does, and she likes him, but he is too shy to ask her out on a date.

Meanwhile, a nerdy doctor named Gordon, also known as Gordy (played by Karan Soni), who is a former high-school classmate of Margaret’s, stops by for a house call to treat Jialuo. Sophie is impressed that Gordon is a doctor, so she makes awkward attempts to play matchmaker between Margaret and Gordon, even though neither one is romantically interested in the other. Sophie also tries to set up Larry with a quiet Chinese immigrant named Cai Shi (played by Peggy Lu), who’s about 25 years older than Larry.

Gordon prescribes Zoloft to Jialuo and recommends that Jialuo get therapy for the depression. Jialuo is too proud to accept that he needs this help. The movie takes a much more serious turn when tensions run even higher because Jialou refuses to take the Zoloft. He literally throws the pills across the room. And in one incident, he spits a Zoloft pill in Margaret’s face.

The siblings’ battle to get Jialuo to take his prescribed Zoloft becomes a symbol for the grudges that all three of his children have against him. Margaret has the most resentment toward her father, so she’s the one who fights the most to get him to take the Zoloft pills. Flashbacks to Margaret’s childhood show that Jialuo was the hardest on her, out of all his three children, because he had the highest expectations for Margaret. Miya Cech has the role of Margaret at about 12 or 13 years old.

In one of these flashback scenes, Margaret has a painful memory of Jialuo slapping her hard in the face in front of her softball teammates, after she joyfully told him that she made it onto the softball team. Instead of being happy for her, Jialuo got angry and assaulted her for having “B” grades on her report card. Later, he gave her an apology gift of new softball gloves, which the adult Margaret says are the only signs that she has that Jialuo might have loved her.

“Dealing With Dad” also shows Margaret’s anxiety issues. She has a recurring nightmare that she’s trapped in a narrow hallway that has a tidal wave of flooding that’s about to drown her. Although Margaret likes to put forth an image to the world that she’s got her whole life together, this vulnerable side to her gives the movie more emotional depth. And she’s not a completely sympathetic protagonist, because she has a tendency to act superior to her brothers and other people. It’s a personality flaw that Margaret gets confronted about at one point in the story.

“Dealing With Dad” also has authentic depictions of the dynamics between immigrant parents and their children who were born and raised in the country where the parents immigrated. Jialuo and Sophie want to tightly hold on to their “old school” Taiwanese traditions and have a hard time accepting that their children might not feel the same way. Those traditions include a reluctance to get psychiatric help for mental health issues.

All of the cast members give performances that range from mediocre to very good. The movie is told mainly from Margaret’s perspective, so Maki has the most challenging role, because of the myriad of emotions that she has to convey. The pace of the movie occasionally drags in the middle, but the last third of the film is the best part. Just when you think “Dealing With Dad” might end on an expected formulaic note, it surprisingly shows that, just like in real life, not everyone is going to change annoying personality traits just because of a family reunion.

1091 Pictures/Screen Media Films released “Dealing With Dad” in select U.S. cinemas on April 16, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on May 9, 2023.

Review: ‘Come as You Are’ (2020), starring Grant Rosenmeyer, Hayden Szeto, Ravi Patel, Gabourey Sidibe, Janeane Garofalo and C.S. Lee

February 14, 2020

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise from left: Gabourey Sidibe, Hayden Szeto, Ravi Patel and Grant Rosenmeyer in “Come as You Are” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Come as You Are”

Directed by Richard Wong

Culture Representation: “Come as You Are” is a comedy about a racially diverse trio of middle-class disabled young men and their female driver who take a road trip from the U.S. to Canada, so the men can visit a brothel and lose their virginities.

Culture Clash: The men sometimes bicker amongst each other over how much they should tell people about their brothel plans, and they have overprotective parents who are against the trip.

Culture Audience: This movie will primarily appeal to viewers who like comedy films to strike a balance between raunchy humor and a story that has a lot of heart.

Ravi Patel, Hayden Szeto, Grant Rosenmeyer and Gabourey Sidibe in “Come as You Are” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

There have been plenty of comedies about road trips, but “Come as You Are” is truly a noteworthy gem not just because the main characters in the movie are disabled but also because it’s a genuinely funny ride that realistically portrays life’s ups and downs. Directed by Richard Wong and written by Erik Linthorst, the movie is a remake of the 2011 Belgian film “Come as You Are” which was originally titled “Hasta La Vista.” The movie is based on a true story, which is probably why even among some of the slapstick moments, most of the film’s emotional elements ring very true. The American filmmakers who did the “Come as You Are” remake consulted with American paraplegic Asta Philpot (who’s the inspiration for the movie), as well as the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab and the Wheelchair Athletes of McFetridge.

In the beginning of the film, viewers are introduced to the person who sets in motion the plans for the road trip. Scotty (played by Grant Rosenmeyer, who’s also one of the films producers) is a 24-year-old quadriplegic virgin who lives with his overbearing single mother Liz (played by Janeane Garofalo) in Littleton, Colorado. Liz is the only caretaker for Scotty, and she’s aware but in denial that her son has sexual needs that aren’t being met. Scotty cannot use his arms and legs due to a congenital defect. And he’s frequently horny and frustrated because he has no prospects for a girlfriend or even a “friend with benefits.” It doesn’t help that Scotty is often abrasive and rude with people.

Scotty channels his angst into original rap songs that he secretly writes but is afraid to perform in front of anyone. He also spends time at a physical-therapy center, where he has a somewhat tense acquaintance with Mo (played by Ravi Patel), a 35-year-old who’s legally blind. Mo lives with his parents, who are also overprotective, but his parents are never seen in the movie. Scotty has a mild crush on his physical therapist Becky (played by Daisye Tutor), who is aware of Scotty’s crush but keeps things professional between them.

One day, a newcomer arrives at the center. His name is Matt (played by Hayden Szeto), a paraplegic in his 20s who can use his hands. Becky is assigned to work with Matt, and Scotty gets very jealous. Later at the therapy center, while watching a paraplegic baseball game, Scotty picks a fight with Matt and demands that Matt tell him that Becky is Scotty’s therapist. Matt, who is polite and doesn’t want a confrontation, agrees to Scotty’s demand, and the expression on Matt’s face says that he wonders if Scotty is mentally unstable.

During the baseball game, Scotty notices that one of the paraplegic baseball players is a middle-aged man who has a gorgeous young girlfriend who could pass for a model. Scotty watches in awe and then congratulates the man on being able to get someone that attractive as a girlfriend. The man then gives Scotty a business card and tells him to look up the business because it will change his life. The card is for a place in Montreal called Chateau Paradis. (In the Belgian “Come as You Are” movie, the disabled men visit a brothel in Spain.)

When Scotty gets home, he looks up Chateau Paradis on the Internet and he finds out that it’s a brothel, founded by a paraplegic (played by Philpot, in a cameo), that caters to the disabled and other people with special needs. Scotty immediately wants to go to the brothel, but he has three big problems: He can’t drive, he can’t afford to go on the trip by himself, and his mother would never allow him to go on the trip.

Scotty immediately hatches a plan to recruit other men from the therapy center to go on the trip with him. He knows that Mo is a virgin, and he figures that mild-mannered Matt might be a virgin too. (He is.) Mo and Matt are each reluctant to go on the trip at first. In fact, Matt flat-out refuses when Scotty asks him for the first time, because Matt has a girlfriend.

But when Matt catches his college-aged girlfriend heavily flirting with another student in a school library, he gets very upset, and she breaks up with him because she says she has to think about her future. It’s a short but heartbreaking moment that shows the harsh realities that disabled people often face when they’re in romantic relationships with able-bodied people, because at some point in the relationship (depending on how serious it is), the issues of how, if or when to raise a family will have to be addressed.

After the breakup with his girlfriend, Matt goes all-in on the road trip and decides he wants to lose his virginity at the brothel. He’s so eager to go that he tells Scotty that he wants to take the trip the following week. Because Scotty has a prickly relationship with Mo, Scotty enlists Matt to convince Mo to take the trip. Mo agrees because he’s always wanted to travel out of the area, but he has mixed feelings about going to the brothel.

Matt lives with his overprotective parents—Roger (played by C.S. Lee) and Maryanne (played by Jennifer Jelsema)—and his pre-teen younger sister Jamie (played by Martha Kuwahara). Although they are a loving family, Matt is feeling stifled by his parents’ unwillingness to let him do more things as an independent adult. (Not surprisingly, his parents refuse Matt’s request to go on a road trip.) Matt also has an unnamed medical condition that requires him to frequently take prescription pills.

Knowing that their parents would disapprove, it doesn’t take long for Scotty, Mo and Matt to go on the secretive trip by temporarily “running away” from home and by hiring a van service that can attend to people with disabilities. In one hilarious scene before they go on their excursion, Matt sends his little sister Jamie to a drugstore to secretly buy him supplies for the trip, including condoms. The look on the cashier’s face is priceless.

To the trio’s surprise, they find out that their van driver Sam is a woman, so they agree not to tell her the real reason for the road trip because they’re afraid of offending her. At first, Sam (played by Gabourey Sidibe) is abrupt and emotionally distant, but she eventually warms up to Mo, who is the most intellectually nerdy one of the group. However, Scotty (like he does with many people he encounters) quickly gets on Sam’s nerves, especially when he calls her “sweetheart,” and they get into some verbal spats in the beginning of the trip. Matt (as he often does in the story) plays peacemaker, and then Sam and Scotty come to an uneasy truce.

When Scotty’s mother and Matt’s parents find out that they’ve deliberately gone missing, the parents join forces to find Scotty and Matt. The story then becomes not just a road trip but also a chase movie, as the trio is in a race against time to get to the brothel before the parents catch up to them. Along the way, including stops in Nebraska and Chicago, a series of mishaps occur that won’t be revealed in this review. But it’s enough to say that Scotty’s mother has access to his email, so she’s found out where the guys are staying through an email confirmation sent by the motel. It increases the possibility that the parents will find the guys before they can get to the brothel.

Meanwhile, as Sam spends more time with her motley crew of passengers, she opens up about her past. Sam used to be a nurse, but she lost her nursing license because she illegally injected her ex-husband with insulin when she caught him cheating on her. Sam and Mo have a growing attraction to one another, which is sparked when Mo is able to describe Sam’s goldfinch tattoo on her arm, just by feeling the tattoo.

Sam eventually finds out about the men’s plans to visit the brothel, and she tells them that she’s actually relieved, because she thought that their secretive plans were more sinister, such as a suicide pact or smuggling drugs. During this unusual road trip, the four travelers learn more about each other and face bigotry issues and emotional challenges, which help them bond together in ways that they didn’t expect.

The entire cast of the movie does a terrific job, because it’s not easy to do a comedy where the characters could have been turned into over-the-top caricatures but instead come across as genuine human beings with full personalities and inner depth. It’s the kind of well-written, well-directed movie where viewers will wonder about some of the main characters’ histories as well as what might happen to them after the story ends.

Do they make it to the brothel? Do the parents catch up to them? Will Sam and Mo get together? You’ll have to see the movie to find out what happens. But along the way, you’ll have a raucous and fun ride with some very touching moments that might make some people shed a few tears. “Come as You Are” is the type of adult comedy that we need more of in this world, because it speaks to authentic and sometimes uncomfortable truths about life, in a way that can still make you laugh, even in the darkest moments.

Samuel Goldwyn Films released “Come as You Are” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on February 14, 2020.

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