White Frog (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Despite its good intentions and the messages it wishes to impart about tolerance and acceptance, “White Frog,” written by Ellie Wen and Fabienne Wen, is, at best, a mediocre experience. What weighs it down considerably is a most television-like quality in script, direction, and photography. Just about everyone talks the same way, the next big revelation is no revelation at all as long as one can read between the lines at the most elementary level, and the lighting is almost always so bright that it appears and feels as though we are watching a sitcom.
The story revolves around a teenager named Nick (Booboo Stewart) who has Asperger Syndrome (AS). Aside from his big brother, Chaz (Harry Shum Jr.), no one else, not even his parents (BD Wong, Joan Chen), understands or connects with him. When Chaz dies from an accident, Nick feels very isolated. Hope comes in the form of Chaz’s friends, especially Doug (Tyler Posey) who recognizes that Chaz would want them to make his brother feel included. It is no easy task, however, because none of the four (Gregg Sulkin, Manish Dayal, Justin Martin) really know how to interact with someone who happens to have AS.
The picture has a flair for the melodramatic and so moments which involve a character feeling hurt and verging on tears will certainly tug at one’s heartstrings. Yet despite a screenplay that prefers to hammer the audience over the head with every single point it wishes to convey, Stewart has a way of drawing the audience in a more subtle manner. He employs his character’s significant difficulties in interaction and communication with a very closed body language.
Being successful at this type of performance is key to the overall believability of the character and story. We lean in a little closer when he has something to say. When he says something that comes across very direct or rude, we consider what he really means. When he is confronted and says nothing at all, we wonder what is going on inside his head through the minute ticks and detailed facial expressions. It is a solid performance in a film that strives to do a lot but is not very good at achieving them.
Conversely, the worst performance goes to BD Wong—which surprised me. Wong is completely miscast in having to play a strict and religious father. The performer neither has the stature nor presence to convince us that he is domineering. Thus, the more confrontational scenes between father and son command no gravity.
On the contrary, I caught myself flinching at the awkwardness of the performance, almost breaking into a laugh because Wong has such a light to him that hugging instead of hating him is the more appropriate response. Perhaps lighting him a certain way or shooting him from a different angle might have helped to create a more intimidating presence.
Perhaps the most beautiful element in the film is how Nick eventually connects with Randy (Sulkin), one of Chaz’ friends. Initially, Randy is sort of a jerk toward the aspie, equipped with ostentatious red car and devil-may-care attitude. This relationship is central to the film’s themes of tolerance, acceptance, and trust so it most curious why it takes too long for these two equally interesting characters to find a strand of commonality.