The story of a 14 year old Asperger’s patient, Nick (BooBoo Stewart), dealing with the death and posthumous coming-out of his idolized older brother Chaz (Harry Shum, Jr), White Frog is an awkward little movie that means well. Crisply shot by Yasu Tanida and sprinkled with decent moments, this feel-good, everybody-will-accept-gays-if-given-world-enough-and-time, microbudgeted drama ultimately is undone by a sermonizing, storyless, drama-free script (by mother and daughter Fabienne and Ellie Wen) and clunky, disruptive editing (by Matthew Rundell). Quentin Lee’s direction, specifically his handling of actors and pace, also drags this movie into amateur territory.
The primary recipients of Mr. Lee’s helplessness are Joan Chen and BD Wong, both of whom have been good elsewhere but neither of whom appear endowed with convincing humanity as the boys’ parents. Their well-framed high-definition shots contain almost no credible emoting, seeming captured from a beginners’ combination film-and-acting class. Mr. Lee is much more careful of his mood-color palette than of the emotion to be wrung from his stars. Some of the younger actors, especially Gregg Sulkin and Tyler Posey as Chaz and Nick’s buddies, come off better; but their dialogue is also less trite, and even their comic lines, some of which are funny on the page, die in Mr. Lee’s presence. His actors always seem to have too much air or not enough; that essential earmark of good storytelling, timing, just isn’t among this director’s gifts. The best acting work comes from Amy Hill as Nick’s therapist; here is an actor who needs no director and no script to help her look professional.
The Wens have composed their screenplay of as many clichés as they could easily locate: the unyielding Christian/Asian American dad, married to the alcoholic mother, parents to the younger brother with problems living in the shadow of the First Son. The brother with problems becomes a gambling whiz because that’s what happens to autistic people in feel-good movies, but someone should tell the Wens that referencing Rain Man by name doesn’t get them off the hook for stealing from it. And instead of writing dynamic scenes in which these tropes come to a sort of life, the Wens have characters deliver exposition like, “Wow, Nick does it again.” Here’s a tip: if you want to write poker scenes, learn to play poker. And if you want to preach, get a pulpit. A story consists of more than speeches. Co-star and executive producer David Henry Hwang is no stranger to clunky writing, but I have to wonder what he did to warrant his “script advisor” credit here. (Jason Rohrer, stageandcinema.com)