“Confetti” is a heartwarming story about a mother who will go to any length to get her dyslexic daughter assistance. The challenges she faces are formidable. They reside in China, where schools make no allowances for “abnormal” children. “The school only provides standardized education”, explains a school representative. A visiting American instructor (George Christophe as Tommy) discovers that Mei Mei (the endearing Harmonie He) is dyslexic but highly talented. Lan (Zhu Zhu), a janitor at the school that expelled Mei Mei, decides to bring Mei Mei to America in order to find a school that will make her daughter “normal.” “America is 36th in the world,” the Chinese instructor dismissively says Lan. Mei Mei’s classmates mock her as she walks out of school, this shows that the East/West cultural split between favoring the collective over the individual and therefore having “normal” mean something completely different, as Gish Jen explores in her novel, The Girl at the Baggage Claim.
Amy Irving and Helen Slater play two of the individuals Lan and Mei Mei encounter in New York, and fans of 1980s films will recognize them. Irving portrays Helen, a wheelchair-bound writer who consented to house Lan and Mei Mei but had no idea Lan didn’t speak English. She instantly attempts to transfer them to someone else, but by the time another choice becomes available, Helen has gotten engrossed in their mission. Her increased contribution in the endeavor to locate a place for Mei Mei to acquire an education helps her to let go of the load of sadness that would otherwise lead to writer’s block.
Dr. Wurmer, played by Slater, is the head of Horizon, a pricey private school Lan and Helen feel is Mei Mei’s final hope after the public school, which portrays itself as inclusive, is unable to help her. Horizon has a two-year waiting list.
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They will not consider an application unless she provides a $5000 neuro-psych exam demonstrating that she can benefit from their program and, as difficult as it is to obtain, a document verifying Lan’s off-the-books work.
Beginning with Helen’s taped appeal to Dr. Wurmer, the tale is narrated in flashback.
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“The world is one big web of stories,” she explains, and the film is presented to us in a series of titled chapters. We discover that the narrative is as much Lan’s as it is Mei Mei’s. Lan’s determination to find a method to make Mei Mei “normal” has as much to do with her own life as it does with her daughter’s, as well as with a secret she may not have hidden as successfully as she believes. Throughout, Zhu’s performance is a marvel, her exquisite face portraying both the terrible humiliation that holds her back and the steely determination that keeps her going ahead. Zhu’s sections with Yanan Li – her husband, are delicate and heartbreaking, with a natural closeness that feels like eavesdropping.
Lan’s efforts are motivated not just by her love for her daughter, but also by the hope of having a second chance. Tommy’s analogy of dyslexia being like attempting to use an American plug in an Asian outlet helped Lan realize her own difficulties. Her insight that “normal” is not the objective is significant for both herself and her kid.
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Ann Hu, the film’s writer/director who based it on her own experience, has a talent for tiny nuances that reflect character and society. The contrasted Chinese and American schools, the stacks of books in Helen’s New York apartment, and the eyeglasses Lan does not need but wears to appear more scholarly all contribute to the film’s bright and compelling setting.
If everything fits together too perfectly that is exactly what Lan, Mei Mei, and Hu deserve. Beyond the stories of Lin and Mei Mei or even Hu, the film is a call for every kid to have the opportunity to study.
The film is now in cinemas.