It’s all a matter of perspective.
Some people might see a bin overflowing with paper scraps as useless refuse.
Others see those bits of paper as confetti, waiting to come to life dancing on the breeze.
That’s not only a scene from the heartfelt, fact-based drama Confetti, it’s an apt metaphor for one of its characters.
That would be Meimei (newcomer Harmonie He), a beguiling little girl who doesn’t quite fit in at school in her Chinese hometown.
Meimei’s obviously bright and imaginative, but she’s far behind her classmates in traditional lessons. A visiting American teacher (George Christopher) thinks he knows why: Meimei has dyslexia.
“She just learns in a way that’s different from the others,” he reassures Meimei’s parents.
But when Meimei’s mother Lan (Zhu Zhu) approaches the principal for help, he tells her the school “only provides standardized education, which Meimei cannot handle. Truthfully, you should look for other options.”
The other option Lan pursues: taking Meimei to America in search of a different school. And, in the process, leaving her husband (wistful Li Yanan) alone in his tailor shop, longing for his wife and daughter.
Fortunately, Thomas knows someone who might help: Helen McClellan (steely Amy Irving), a wheelchair-bound writer who could use Lan’s assistance at her New York apartment.
That is, if she’ll ever let down her guard — and open her heart to the newcomers.
After all, as Lan and Meimei discover, finding their way so far from home — in a place so different from home — can be an uphill climb.
Writer-director Ann Hu not only knows that journey, she’s lived it, as a Chinese immigrant who’s now a U.S. citizen — and as the mother of a dyslexic daughter.
To Hu’s credit, she wisely resists the temptation to pile on the melodrama — or the sentiment — as Confetti unfolds.
None of the movie’s plot developments provide the slightest surprise. (Not even when we discover the wrenching reasons for Lan’s stoic determination and Helen’s outward frostiness.)
But Hu’s understated direction keeps Confetti’s focus exactly where it belongs: on the movie’s characters.
Although she’s irresistible Meimei — and her classmates in both China and New York — provide plenty of cute-kid appeal, it’s Zhu’s quietly poignant performance as Lan that gives Confetti its true emotional heft.
In this era of in your-face bombast, Confetti proves that welcome rarity: a little movie with a big heart.