Movie review: Front Cover #Queerscreen

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

One of the great tropes of romantic comedies, indeed any love worth its red-toned, Cupid-heavy salt, is the headily appealing idea that opposites attract.

There’s something inherently beguiling about the notion that two quite disparate people can find enough common ground on which to build a romance for the ages, the kind of which songs are sung and books are written, and yes, movies such as Front Cover are made.

Of course, as this queer romantic comedy from Ray Yeung makes playfully clear, getting to the point where those two people will even admit there is any kind of meeting of hearts and minds is half the battle and much of the considerable narrative fun to be had.

And in the case of this lightweight but highly enjoyable film, the differences are stark and thus the percolating, bubbling storyline is every bit as compellingly fun to watch.

Ryan Fu (Jake Choi) is a fashionably styled almost-thirty gay Chinese-American man who is rapidly scaling the dizzying and bitchy heights of the fashion world in New York City where he is shooting for a front cover slot of Mais Oui magazine.

He is on a man on the up-and-up, loved by the magazine’s hairstylist friend Janet (Jennifer Neala Page) and doted on, if with a little exasperation at times by his parents who, after some initial bumps in the road, have fully embraced his sexuality.

The one thing he doesn’t want is to be the stylist for visiting big name Chinese actor Qi Xiao Ning (James Chen) who has a reputation for being difficult with those hired to steer in the “right” fashion direction.

Ning wants to reflect a modern Chinese aesthetic of style while thoroughly American Ryan, who can’t even speak Mandarin, sheepishly admitting he has pulled away from his heritage for reasons he initially doesn’t fully disclose, is all about what’s on the radar in the rarefied world of New York fashion.

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

Point of conflict one – tick!

But there’s more going on than just the chasm-like difference in shirt choices between the two; with Ryan somewhat distanced from the Chinese part of his identity and Ning championing it at every point, the two are culturally worlds apart, a gap so profound that Ryan comes perilously close to losing Ning’s business, something that earns him the ire of his editor Francesca (Sonia Villani) who blows hot and cold throughout the film, in both professional and personal senses.

The stage is thus set for Ryan and Ning to butt heads, misunderstand each other and generally Not Get Along until such time, of course, that they inevitably and rather sweetly fall in love.

For Ning is very much in the closet, all too aware the revealing his true sexuality would be the death knell for his career on the rise in China and for any hope he has of making it big in the United States where he feels he will have the freedom to tell stories that better reflect who he really is.

There’s no surprise that Ryan and Ning are headed down this road.

Yeung sets things up very early on, trading on the good old hate/love dynamic that has powered many a rom-com down through the years, giving us some truly great coming-togethers such as Bringing Up Baby, Pride and Prejudice and The Proposal, and which is clearly at work in Front Cover.

Entertaining though it is, and Front Cover does make good use of it, it doesn’t really fly in the context of this film.

There is definitely a good amount of chemistry between Choi and Chen who bring to life the idea of two men from wholly different backgrounds suddenly discovering they might not be so far apart after all.

They are let down a little though by a script that doesn’t so much build to a certain point at times as simply, and sometimes abruptly, arrive there.

These moments can jar such as when Ning, struggling with the fact that a magazine may have outed him when he went with Ryan on a family outing, suddenly argues with the man he has just slept and cuddled with, only to come back around a little later all apologetic.

It’s not so much that’s there a lack of cohesion or good narrative momentum because the story does bring all its pieces together quite nicely at the end, delivering up a poignantly thoughtful final act that is far more sophisticated and affecting than most romantic comedies manage.

It’s simply that in executing some of the lynchpin there is less of an elegance of storytelling and more of a rush to stick the standard rom-com parts together in a way that seems a little rushed and lack in the slow-burn authenticity the film has spent a great deal of its fun first section creating.

Overall though Front Cover possesses just the right amount of emotionally resonant confected rom-com-iness.

There are some moments, such as when they are dancing at a gay club, pretending not to be with each other even though they are with each other and another guy comes in to kiss Ryan prompting a full-on pash, to use Australian parlance for a passionate kiss, that just take your breath away, something which also takes place the morning after too.

As romantic comedies go, it’s a lot of bright, light, delightfully over the top and emotionally angsty, frothy fun, just the kind of queer tale of love and romance between polar opposites that the doctor ordered.

It is easy to escape into and get lost in and yes, while it is a little bit silly and clumsy at times, with some overwrought acting and less than adroit scripting, it mostly goes where it needs to go, delivering up a heartwarming tale of love against the odds and an ending that makes it clear that love is powerful, it may not necessarily play out exactly as you might expect.

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