A new romantic erotic comedy!
Independent films are so diverse you never quite know what to expect. Case in point, Todd Wilson's Under One Roof—a simple but effective tale of boy meets boy, boy pushes boy away, boy gets boy back in a rather surprising way. What the film lacks in production values it makes up for in heart, sharing with us a tale most film audiences rarely see.
Facts of the Case
Daniel (Jay Wong) is a gay, first generation Chinese-American twenty-something living at home with his widowed mother and grandmother. Like many gay adolescents, he maintains two separate lives—a closeted sheltered young man at home and an openly gay young man with friends. That fragile balance is shattered when Robert (James Marks), a gay college grad from Indiana, moves into the family's San Francisco basement apartment. Daniel falls hard for Robert but refuses to acknowledge or give into his feelings, so as to preserve the real or imagined sanctity of his family and Asian heritage. This struggle eventually gets the best of Daniel, leaving him with the difficult decision of choosing to live the life he wants or the life his family expects of him.
Independent films are an incredible medium, giving creative artists, both amateur and professional, a forum and channel for sharing deeply personal stories with audiences who might never otherwise experience them. With this opportunity comes a diversity of product quality ranging from studio polished to backyard camcorder. Under One Roof falls more towards the lower end of the spectrum.
Shot on digital video over 17 days in San Francisco, the film has the feel of a college thesis project, which isn't entirely unexpected. This is only director Todd Wilson's second film and his first full-length feature. His debut—a documentary on gay Asian/Caucasian relationships—played to much acclaim on the GLBTQ film festival circuit. This film also marks the debut of screenwriter David Lewis, an award-winning editor with the San Francisco Chronicle. Born during a cocktail party discussion regarding the apparent lack of a gay romantic comedy genre, Under One Roof was 16 months in the making, drawing inspiration from personal experience as well as the lives of many of their friends and acquaintances.
Watching the film, you get the feeling Wilson and Lewis were never quite sure of what they had. While some scenes are poignant and touching, others feel forced or inserted simply to pad the running time. Case in point, the overuse of male nudity such as the naked BBQ party. If appropriate to the story or a given scene, by all means include it, yet here it's gratuitous to a fault. Granted, it's the director's prerogative and Wilson makes no excuses—"I like it! And the audiences do too. We kept dialing it up, in reshoots and pickups. We kept adding until we thought we had enough."
Wilson also feels very strongly about casting gay actors in gay roles, which made casting a challenge—"I have seen many gay films where I simply don't believe the performances because they can't kiss another guy and make me believe they were enjoying it." Unfortunately, the performances of these actors are erratic at best. There are touching and believable moments from the two leads (Jay Wong and James Marks) along with beautiful, albeit brief, performances by Trish Ng as Daniel's friend Amy and Audrey Finer as Robert's mother. However, the rest of the cast is marginal. Sandra Lee (Mrs. Chang) comes close but doesn't consistently hit the mark as Daniel's anxiously attentive, old-world mother. James Quedado (Tony) is nothing more than an over-the-top caricature of the prototypical best friend, whose comic relief is easily eclipsed by the wonderful Vivian Kobayashi as Gram Chang.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the image is crisp and clean, as one would expect from digital video. The colors are bright and inviting, when not lost in the glare or shadow of inconsistent lighting. The Dolby 2.0 stereo track is serviceable with no apparent problems or issues, underscored by a modestly understated and entertaining score by composer Jack Curtis Dubowsky.
The disc comes complete with several bonus features. A full-length feature commentary by director Todd Wilson and actors Jay Wong (Daniel), Ken Craig (Roger), and Vivian Kobayashi (Gram) is entertaining but not compelling enough to warrant a recommendation. Watch the film and if you're interested enough in the process, take a listen. Otherwise skip it. The same holds true for the outtakes—they're infinitely more entertaining for those involved in the making of this film than for the general audience. Round out the extras with the original theatrical trailer and a handful of studio promos and you have a quality-authored presentation.
In the end, we're left with a nice little film about a boy who falls in love and finds his true self in the process. A story well worth being told, especially in this day and age. Given the emerging recognition and acceptance of lifestyles outside the "norm" or so-called mainstream, it's important to give adolescents positive role models—people they can identify with, to realize they are not alone in this world. We can only hope more independent filmmakers will find their own voice and share their stories with us. More importantly, Under One Roof proves a film doesn't have to be flawless or exceptional to effectively deliver its message.
Director Todd Wilson and Screenwriter David Lewis are released on their own recognizance, sent forth to continue developing their storytelling skills. TLA is commended for providing a conduit for these films to reach the people who need to see and hear them the most. Keep up the good work. This court stands adjourned.
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• Feature Commentary by Director Todd Wilson and actors Jay Wong, Ken Craig, and Vivian Kobayashi
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