Whenever anything emotional borders on going overboard, I usually end up feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed. So much so that I have been known to fast forward through those scenes so that I don’t have to endure the awkwardness any longer. White Frog, a film written by mother/daughter team Fabienne Wen and Ellie Wen and directed by Better Luck Tomorrow’s Quentin Lee, skates that thin line all the way until the end without ever managing to go over. over-sentimentality
White Frog tells the story of Nick Young, a young man with Asperger’s syndrome who has to learn how to go on with life after his older brother Chaz is killed by a drunk driver. Nick (BooBoo Stewart) and Chaz (Harry Shum, Jr.) work well together with Shum often keeping the scenes between the two from feeling too over-wrought. Not really known to the general viewing public for his dramatic roles, Shum manages to glide through his scenes effortlessly. So much so that you wish he had been featured more. However, Stewart, is the one here who is really challenged, and although I didn’t completely buy into his portrayal as a young man with Asperger’s, I thought he did a valiant job with his efforts.
At times it felt as though White Frog is trying to deal with too many subject matters, leaving the movie feeling disjointed with no true destination in mind other than a heart-tugging climax where all the characters learn a lesson for the better. While both Stewart and Shum’s roles felt properly fleshed out and the connection to their characters was almost instantaneous, that of their parents was less so. Nick and Chaz’s father Oliver Young, played by BD Wong, is a severely limited man who has no real connection with his dead son and refuses to understand his living son. Try as I might, I felt no connection with the loss that he felt. However, this is not the case with their mother Irene, played by Joan Chen. Regardless of the fact ofbeing a parent myself, I couldn’t comprehend her reluctance to accept Chaz even in death or why she reacts to the truth the way she does. It didn’t stop me from tearing up at the obvious heartache she felt.
Rounding out the movie are Chaz’s friends, Randy (Gregg Sulkin), Ajit (Manish Dayal), Doug (Tyler Posey), and Cameron (Justin Martin), who take Nick under their wing at their weekly poker game. At first this gesture is extended by Doug who feels that it’s what Chaz would have wanted, but soon the rest of the guys in the group start to accept Nick. This includes Chaz’s best friend Randy who at the start of the film appears standoffish and reluctant to be around Nick. This is due in large part to the secret he and Chaz feel they are forced to keep from their family and friends for fear that they won’t be accepted.
It is with the friends that you finally get a sense as to who Chaz really was and what he meant to the people around him. The people who saw a part of him that he never felt comfortable showing his family. Sulkin’s journey from an over-privileged young man to a boy dealing with losing the one he loved is subtle and effective. The real shocker for me here was Posey who I had only known previously as the guy from MTV’s Teen Wolf and with whom I had learned to tolerate his character Scott; however, here he is grounded and there is none of the dramatics I have come to associate him with.
While White Frog teeters dangerously close to “next on a very special episode” territory, it is thanks to the strengths of the performances that you are instead left with a feeling of contentment.
I give White Frog 2.5 “firehouses” out of 5.
by Mendie Murray