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The Grace Lee Project

  • Film

Time Out says

THE NAME GAME Two amazing Graces (including the director, right) question stereotypes.

This quirky, revealing look at a variety of Asian-American women who all share the same name—a common one for children of Korean and Chinese immigrants—is really a whimsical search for self in a world of maddening sameness. As a youth in Missouri, filmmaker Grace Lee thought she was one of a kind. Years later, she's chagrined to meet people who knew a Grace Lee in high school, especially since most describe a sweet, soft-spoken, studious girl who fits the generic ethnic stereotype. Wondering how she wound up "the one loser in a sorority of super-Asians," Lee sets out to find at least one rebel in this clan of "interchangeable drones," visiting a Honolulu broadcast reporter, an 85-year-old former Black Panther in Detroit and a California pastor's wife, among others.

Weaving her wry, self-deprecating observations ("I suck at piano. I've never had cute hair.") around the personal stories of other Grace Lees—the name's popular for its Christian aura and kinship with Grace Kelly—Lee offers insights into notions of identity, ethnic self-regard and the pressures many Asian-American girls feel to excel and conform. Although her interview subjects come from all walks of life and seem to defy the "statistically average Grace Lee," they share optimism about the future. Lee uses humor to trounce society's lingering Orientalist assumptions—but what's most interesting is how her fear of being a forgettable face in a homogeneous stew of Asian femininity ultimately leads her to a renewed sense of cultural belonging.—Damon Smith

(Now playing; Film Forum.)

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