Director Patrick Wang on How to Make a Melodrama Masterpiece

11/14/2012 9:00 AM |

He was impossibly endearing right from the start.
It makes the movie. He’s in a lot of the early movie, but there’s a big chunk he falls out of. Even though Joey is in about every scene, the mistake some movies make when they have a lead protagonist is that they feel like because they’re in every scene, they’re the main thrust of every scene. And that’s just not true with Joey. A lot of times, he’s the least interesting person in the scene. Sometimes we need to see what the other characters are all about, and that way we can understand Joey better by seeing how people react to him.

How important to you was it that the movie be restrained?
Some people ask why I showed the back of Joey’s head so much. My response is that I think movies show the front of peoples’ faces too much! I think movies are too loud. This is restrained relative to what’s standard in movies. But it’s not restrained relative to what life is like. I don’t think that loud is the most effective or realistic register. With something like this, you might expect a melodrama where people may be shouting all the time. And there is shouting here—where it’s appropriate—and there are some tears, but that’s not where people live their lives. There’s a balance to how much of our lives are loud or confrontational and how much consists of other things. It’s a big part of what makes us. Let’s say we have a fight; we spend a lot more of our lives feeling that fight than we do in the moment of the fight itself. That’s really interesting to me: how we deal with that stuff. That is a lot of our hurt and a lot of our desire, and if we only concentrate on the explosive moments, you leave so much out of life. I think that’s why the movie gets to some people; there are these things we haven’t quite dealt with. Some are fortunate and can talk to others about it, or work through it themselves, but for a lot of people, it sits there unresolved. It’s an unfortunate thing about modern life. That’s why when they get this chance, they heal so much, it helps them through that stuff.

This movie brings into focus less the legal definitions of family than the emotional definitions. How would you describe your attitude towards redefining family?
That’s right, but the word I don’t feel much responsibility for is “redefine.” I see the family, how they are, and the world needs to figure out how it comes together and how to protect that family. But I’m not setting out to draw new lines or move old lines. It’s just what I see and what I recognize as family in terms of behavior, love, the things you hope for in a family. It’s something I learned as an exchange student in Argentina, where I had a wonderful host family. I was amazed how when you treat someone like family, first just by calling each other family, that’s family already. Then, when I go off later in life and start my own family which much more recognizably fits into the definition of family, that has its roots in something. It can be confusing to people; sometimes for clarity, I’ll use modifiers like my “Argentine mom” or “Argentine dad” but when it’s in the house, it’s just “mom” and “dad.”