CHILDREN OF INVENTION (Tze Chun, 2009)

There is genuine merit to Children of Invention, the first, digitally videographed feature by a writer-director who has made several short films: Chicago-born, Boston area-raised, New York-based Tze Chun, whom Filmmaker magazine named one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2007, and who is set to direct, in part, the film of Will Eisner’s graphic novel A Contract with God. Semi-autobiographical, Children of Invention deals with a family—a single mother, Elaine Cheng, with two children, Raymond and Tina—on the edge of economic extinction in a Boston suburb. Elaine, divorced, hasn’t received a check for months from her former husband, who is in Hong Kong, and the check she did receive was only a pittance of the court-ordered amount. Although Elaine has struggled to find work and has approached relations, she has lost their house and is currently living, along with her disappointed children, illegally, in a model apartment with a fake telephone. Innocently, she is currently involved in a pyramid scheme for which she is arrested by the police, without the knowledge of her children, to whom not even a phone call can connect her. Raymond, about 10, asserting responsibility for himself and his sister, about 7, assumes that their mother has abandoned them. With $500 from Grandma in a Boston bank, he makes modest inventions, such as a powered sphagetti twirler, for him and Tina to sell, at a considerable mark-up, streetside. Upon reunion with his mother, Raymond, as always all-business, is initially unforgiving.
     All three performances—Cindy Cheung as Elaine, Michael Chen as Raymond, adorably irritating Crystal Chiu as Tina—are very real and touching, and only rarely borderline sentimental. Characters in such compelling circumstance are seldom portrayed in American films. Sequences conveying the children’s dreams are slyly inserted. Only the last of these elements, however, pokes the piece above the level of visual storytelling. Everything interests; but there isn’t enough expressive meat on the bones.
     Numerous best film prizes for Chun, especially at Asian-American film festivals.

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