LOS ANGELES ASIAN PACIFIC FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! From the title alone, it is clear that Tom Huang’s Dealing with Dad is about a child’s strained relationship with their father. Fractured familial relations is not a novel narrative beat by any means, so the writer-director has to get audiences’ sympathies right away. So Huang adds some genuine warmth and humor to a rather somber tale of revisiting a past that’s best left forgotten.
Dealing with Dad follows the Chang siblings, Margaret, Roy, and Larry. Margaret (Ally Maki) is employed at a start-up company and needs everything to be clean and perfect. She has a husband (Echo Kellum) and a child. Eldest brother Roy (Peter Kim) works at a bank and is going through a divorce. After receiving news that their father (Dana Lee) has been depressed, a reluctant Margaret and Roy make the trip back home. Here, they reconnect with the unemployed Larry (Hayden Szeto), who still lives with their parents.
Margaret and Roy find that their father is more good-natured in his depressive state. So much so that they end up preferring him that way because he’s not as vociferous and mean-spirited anymore, to say the least. Larry is especially happy with the silence in the house. Unfortunately, their mother (Page Leong) hasn’t changed at all. As expected, the siblings’ reunion causes wounds and rivalries to surface. Watching Margaret, Roy, and Larry bicker and reminisce about old times is by far the most amusing aspect of the movie.
“Margaret and Roy find that their father is more good-natured in his depressive state.”
Maki, Kim, and Szeto are wholly believable as siblings who have an ax to grind with their father or each other. Huang ensures that every sibling is their own person with their own hardship. The opening scene of Dealing with Dad at the PTA meeting portrays Margaret as a perfectionist. But, not long after returning home, it becomes clear that her tempestuous relationship with her father still irks her deeply. Her dad demanded perfection and discipline, perhaps explaining why Margaret is the way she is. Maki brings nuance to the role, outwardly assertive yet showing subtle signs of emotional exhaustion. Larry is reduced to being the nerdy sibling who spews out pop culture references. You see slight development in his character, as you do with Roy and his impending divorce, but romance subplots impede their impact.
Sensibly, the filmmaker orchestrates a handful of conversations between the characters that have nothing to do with their father. Most, if not all, come with revelations. For example, in one conversation, Margaret learns why her mother dislikes her husband. In another exchange, Roy tells his brother that he slept with Larry’s crush back in the day. Huang has a compelling way of capturing the anxieties of the siblings by keeping them in close proximity to each other, even as they seem to be on completely different wavelengths.
For a drama about family dysfunction, Dealing with Dad is surprisingly funny and optimistic. Admittedly, there are emotional confrontations, some of which are more effective than others due to some awfully convenient storytelling. But, for the most part, this is a film about learning to appreciate what you have and working to repair familial relationships, even if it turns out to be a fruitless act.
Dealing with Dad screened at the 2022 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
"…surprisingly funny and optimistic."