Anthony's Film Review
The Joy Luck Club (1993)
A solid screenplay, outstanding performances, and powerful messages definitely make this film worthwhile...
The Joy Luck Club, based on the novel by Amy Tan (who also co-wrote the screenplay for this movie), is about mothers and daughters. It is true that this film centers on Chinese-American mothers and daughters, but that doesn't mean the rest of the world can't relate to it. If anything, The Joy Luck Club is great because of its universal appeal. Mothers and daughters of Mexican culture, Jewish culture, African culture, and any other culture will take this film to heart. I will even go as far as to say that fathers and sons of any culture can take something meaningful away from The Joy Luck Club. Really, the movie is about family and how, underneath a difficult parent-child relationship, parents are motivated by unforgettable struggles.
The first scene of the movie is simple yet captivating. It depicts a party in a house where various Chinese-American people are talking, laughing, and just celebrating life itself. We then see a young woman named June enter a room where three elderly women, named Lindo, An-Mei, and Ying-Ying, are about to play mahjong. June, as a narrator here, explains that her mother Suyuan and the three women at the table formed a Joy Luck Club to help ease their pain and maintain hope for a better future. This scene acts as a natural segue into the bulk of the movie, consisting of flashbacks for each of four mothers in China and their four American-raised daughters.
All eight stories are equally interesting. June as a girl is expected to be a piano prodigy but her heart just isn't in music. Suyuan, back in China, makes the difficult choice of leaving two babies behind. Lindo enters an arranged marriage to a prepubescent boy. Lindo's daughter, Waverly, is expected to be a chess prodigy and has a Caucasian fiance learning Chinese etiquette. An-Mei marries an abusive, cheating man. An-Mei's daughter, Lena, marries someone who insists on splitting all expenses equally. Ying-Ying joins her mother who marries a polygamous aristocrat. Ying-Ying's daughter, Rose, has problems in her own marriage.
You know what's even more interesting? The connections among these flashbacks. By juxtaposing a mother's story and her daughter's story, it becomes clear that the mother just wants the best for her daughter. There is one great scene where Lindo and Waverly are at a beauty salon. They argue for a while before the two reach a mutual understanding of each other's struggles, after which the two spontaneously laugh together and embrace each other. It's just beautiful to see two distant people become close again. This is also a good time for me to mention another great thing about the flashbacks: Some are divided into two segments rather than presented entirely the first time around. This is done so that the most crucial parts of the stories are delivered at just the right moment in the movie.
As you can tell, the writing is great. But that's not the only strength of The Joy Luck Club. The performances by the actresses playing the eight women are just terrific. For one thing, any concerns about stereotypical Hollywood portrayals of Asians in The Joy Luck Club can be thrown out the window. Yes, the mothers have accents, but they are still quite easy to understand. And just wait until they tell their stories. They express raw emotion when they have to remember their difficult past. As for the daughters, who speak English perfectly, they, too, appear on screen as real people with real issues. The more the film went on, the more impressed I was with this cast. Every role has something valuable to contribute.
The last observation I'll mention is how the movie just gets better and better. The stories early in the film seem like average stories. But don't rush to judgment. The stories later on the film are much more dramatic and have a much greater impact emotionally. This is best exemplified by the last 10 to 15 minutes of the movie. Without giving too much away, it involves a revisit to Suyuan's story and a final revelation about why she did what she did. This is the most heartbreaking part of the movie, but it is shortly followed by the most uplifting scene in the movie.
This is perhaps the key message of The Joy Luck Club. No matter how hard one's life has been, it's always possible to find the light and discover how great life can still be. The important thing is where one's life is headed. Even though this message isn't anything new, it's one that deserves to be repeated over and over in many different stories. With that, I really do appreciate it being presented in The Joy Luck Club. It's an inspiration for all Asian-Americans and for everyone else in need of an emotional lift.
For more information about The Joy Luck Club, visit the Internet Movie Database.