Review: 'Falling for Grace' a formulaic story

A recipe that has long warranted moratorium status — the Cinderella formula — dominates “Falling for Grace,” which presents the fairy-tale heroine as a social climber with roots in Chinatown. The result is a striving but hackneyed indie that neither a Chinese-American ingredient nor an appealing lead performance can make fresh.

Largely the baby of newcomer filmmaker-actress Fay Ann Lee, the film is part romantic comedy and part immigrant-experience snapshot. Lee plays Grace Tang, a Chinatown-bred Wall Street investment banker who is so eager to fit into high society that after some wealthy socialites mistake her for another Grace Tang — a Hong Kong heiress — she goes along with the misunderstanding.

The deception hooks Grace up with ideal bachelor Andrew Barrington (Gale Harold), a rising prosecuting attorney with money and morals. As love blossoms, Grace — unable to maintain the charade forever — must embrace who she truly is.

Lee proves decent in front of the camera but shaky behind it. A likable screen presence, she convinces us that Grace deserves happiness. As a director, she presents Chinese-American life in a way that captures both the struggles of people like Grace’s hardworking China-born father, who is ailing and without health insurance, and the desperation with which some children of immigrants try to assimilate.

But her inexperienced steerage and a banal script (cowritten by Karen Rousso) give rise to clunky, shallow overall results.

Suggesting a mix of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Maid in Manhattan,” the movie contains nothing original or sparkling enough to enable it to overcome the rags-to-riches triteness at its core.

Clichés prevail — Andrew’s blond, superficial socialite fiancée, for starters. Lee cranks up the feel-good tone beyond credibility. Sweatshop labor gets the gloss-over. The romantic leads exhibit little chemistry.

Such weaknesses hamper the quality cast. This includes Lee herself, who, while vital, can’t, under Lee’s directing, score the emotional knockout that the movie needs. In a key realization scene, director Lee gives the primary close-up to Andrew, even though it is Grace’s eyes that should be radiating heartbreak into the camera. You wish Lee had shown more confidence in herself as an actor.

Falling for Grace **

Starring Fay Ann Lee, Gale Harold, Margaret Cho, Ken Leung

Written by Fay Ann Lee, Karen Rousso

Directed by Fay Ann Lee

Rated PG-13

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

Just Posted

San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler, pictured in July at Oracle Park, says team members simultaneously can be “measured and calm” and “looking to push the accelerator.” (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
How Gabe Kapler sets the tone for Giants’ success with strategy, mindset

‘There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s the hands-down manager of the year’

Artist Agnieszka Pilat, pictured with Spot the Robot Dog from Boston Robotics, has a gallery show opening at Modernism. (Courtesy Agnieszka Pilat)
Screenshots of VCs, Kanye and tech parties by the Bay

In this week’s roundup, Ben Horowitz’s surprising hip-hop knowledge and the chic tech crowd at Shack15

If he secured a full term in the Senate, Newsom would become the most powerful Californian Democrat since Phil Burton at the height of his career, or maybe ever. <ins>(Kevin Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Firefighters extinguish burning material near Lake Tahoe on Sept. 3 in the wake of the Caldor Fire; environmental scientists say the huge fire is bringing to light deficiencies in forest management. <ins>(Max Whittaker/New York Times)</ins>
Cal Fire, timber industry must face an inconvenient truth

We are logging further into the wildfire and climate crisis

Changing zoning in San Francisco neighborhoods where single family homes prevail is crucial in the effort to achieve equity. (Shutterstock)
To make SF livable, single-family zoning must be changed

Let’s move to create affordable housing for working class families

Most Read