Tucked away in one room of the Hamajima household are two bunk-bed mates: Bob and Jimmy. The duo could not be more dissimilar.
Bob (played by newcomer Justin Kwong) is an industrious type of kid. Even though he is only 10 years old, he runs his own landscaping business, complete with a portable credit card machine. So grown up is Bob that he takes the money he earns from the job to pay for piano lessons. It turns out he’s quite gifted. So gifted, in fact, that he already has moved past what his teacher can impart to him. He merely uses her piano for practice and she’s an innocent bystander, left to marvel at his ability.
Conversely, Jimmy is not so mature. He wears his heart on his sleeve and holds little back. Jimmy, who sees the world through naive eyes, doesn’t seem to have much in the way of a future. He doesn’t expect much much from others, and offers less in return.
Oh, and Jimmy is Bob’s 40-year-old uncle.
Jimmy (played by Hiroshi Watanabe) is recently divorced and has come to stay with his sister Aiko (Nae), much to the chagrin of her older husband, Tak (Mio Takada). At first, it is unclear why Tak has such a distaste for Jimmy, but soon it becomes clear why. Painfully clear.
Jimmy was once a actor (the movie starts with a clip from one of his films — including a humorous voice over by Bruce Campbell). In fact, Jimmy has had a lot of jobs. Currently, he has a part-time office job for which he is under-qualified. But Jimmy dreams of finding a better job — preferably one that has to do with dinosaurs, a topic that fascinates him.
He also plans to find a new woman. A dating site isn’t right for him, and a set-up with a friend of his sister’s goes awry when the woman in question turns out to be much too tall for him. But Jimmy remains undaunted, and one night, as he prepares to go to sleep, Jimmy picks up a picture of himself with his ex-wife and softly coos to her image, “Don’t Worry. I’ll find someone better than you.”
That someone turns out to be Tak’s college-aged niece Ramona (played by Lynn Chen). Ramona, who Jimmy hasn’t seen since she was a little girl, has grown up to be extremely beautiful. She also has temporarily moved into the Hamajima household. Jimmy proceeds to go into over-drive in an attempt to charm her, for better or for worse.
But, I digress. One of the joys of the movie is that it never exactly goes where you expect and to say more would be a disservice to the movie.
Charming and complex, “White on Rice” is the kind of movie they don’t make enough of anymore.
This isn’t a movie that can be boxed into preconceived expectations. When you think it’s a comedy, it goes serious. But just when it might start to get to serious, its comedic heart re-emerges.
The characters in “White on Rice” are the main draw. Director Dave Boyle treats each character not as a fictional film character set about on a by-the-numbers path, but as a unique individual, capable of making mistakes.
In a typical romantic comedy, the character of Jimmy would set his eyes upon Ramona, a woman clearly out of his league in every way, and would find a way to make her his by the end. This movie doesn’t make things that easy.
“White on Rice” chooses to never take the easiest path. And that, in the end, is its greatest triumph.
“White on Rice,” which has been playing the film festival circuit, will open March 12 in New York City at Big Cinemas Manhattan (Formerly The ImaginAsian).
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