While no means a slam-dunk in art houses, writer-director Alice Wu's romantic comedy Saving Face, about two young Chinese-American women who fall in love and suffer the joys and dramas of their unexpected romance, exudes the kind of warmth and intelligence that delivers to well-defined segments of the indie-oriented audience.
Wil (Michelle Krusiec) is a medical resident working long hours in a New York hospital. The job leaves her no time for any social life except for the occasional cross-generational gathering she attends in Queens for members of the Chinese-American community. At one such event, she encounters dancer Vivian (Lynn Chen) and sparks fly.
The women meet again when Vivian visits her doctor father (Luoyong Wong), who works in the same hospital as Wil and happens to be her superior. Such connections in the film and in the whole community give credence to one character's observation that there may be a billion Chinese people but only two degrees of separation.
The overworked Wil is obviously a neophyte in same-sex matters and resists her crush and Vivian's advances, while Vivian, in the arts and therefore the more progressive, is comfortable with her feelings and with her pursuit. Wil's state of mind is further assailed by news that her mother (Joan Chen) has gotten herself pregnant but won't reveal who the father is.
The young women, however, cannot resist their mutual attraction and an affair eventually gets underway in the safety of Manhattan and far from Queens where their elders live. But the relationship grows strained when Vivian learns that she has landed a coveted position with the Paris Opera Ballet. She threatens to relocate to Paris and the women separate. While strong in many suits, Saving Face is not strong on surprises, so the story's resolution, while dependably satisfying, is less than original.
Though often familiar, Saving Face is distinguished by Wu's snappy and savvy dialog, the fine acting, and the bold scenes of lovemaking that graphically but tastefully convey the passion of the two protagonists. The director also conjures up a lively and likeable Chinese-American milieu in Queens, whose denizens are as traditional and hardworking as they are gossipy and fun-loving. Wu's film bursts with rich lives lived by spirited people audiences will enjoy spending time with.