With the recent victory for human rights and the ability to marry whomever you love, gay pride has been in the public consciousness as of late. Though, for as accepted as homosexuality is, there are thousands of people who feel they still can’t be themselves to their friends and family. You would think that in this day and age, we’ve become a more enlightened society – but family, cultural and religious traditions can often intimidate and repress the open-mindedness needed for unconditional love. Such is the case here in “White Frog“, coming to DVD on July 16 from Wolfe Video. The film explores both the false fronts and coming into being of a young teenage male with one small twist: he’s dead.
Nick Young (Booboo Stewart) is a high school freshman with Asperger’s Syndrome. Without friends and somewhat neglected by his angry father (BD Wong), he idolizes his older brother Chaz (Harry Shum Jr.) who’s always kept the boy under his wing. One night, Nick’s parents are awakened to find that Chaz has been killed on his way home from his friend’s place. The tragedy throws the deeply religious and heavily traditional Asian-American family into turmoil and with nobody to lean on, Nick seeks the support of his brother’s closest friends. As the bonds get stronger and stronger, the boy begins to learn the secrets his brother kept from the family – chief among them, his homosexuality, as well as his plans for the future. But in order to carry out Chaz’s final wishes, Nick must present his parents with the truth… no small task, as their strict father won’t let anything “tarnish” his son’s “perfect” image. Will the boy who has difficulty interacting socially be able to communicate love to those who need it the most?
Of course he does… and he tugs on every heartstring he passes along the way. The script written by the mother/daughter team of Ellie and Fabienne Wen is saturated with emotion and social commentary, not unlike an afterschool special. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I like afterschool specials, but they certainly tread a line. ”White Frog” can be a little heavy handed, but never gets preachy, exactly. Lots of stock is placed into religion, particularly the family’s Baptist church and it’s pastor. There’s never anything that directly pits the church against homosexuality in the film, but there’s no question that the father’s deep involvement with religion has formed his ideals of what “family” is. The scene where Nick finds “Jesus” on a bench and learns about true love, feels like a half ton of bricks landing on your head, but a full ton is reserved for the requisite “video diary” scene, where Chaz posthumously explains the film’s title. However some of the trickier elements, such as dealing initially with the death and Nick’s delicate initiation into Chaz’s peer group are handled quite well.
Director Quentin Lee does the best he can with the occasionally uneven script, getting winning performances from BD Wong and Joan Chen as Nick’s tortured parents. These two actors really contribute much to “White Frog“‘s emotional center and are well supported by Chaz’s friends played by Gregg Sulkin, Tyler Posey, Manish Dayal and Justin Martin. But the real weight is placed on the shoulders of Booboo Stewart as Nick, and while he doesn’t break, he does occasionally buckle. There were times when “I Am Sam” came to mind and it was Robert Downey Jr., who put it there. The danger to playing someone with “special needs” is that you may nail it 99% of the time, but that one moment where you do something that doesn’t ring true, it takes the viewer out of the game. For me, it was the moment where completely at random, he cheerily announces to his brother’s gay lover that he was glad Chaz didn’t die a virgin. Awkward. But where Lee truly drops the ball, is where it counts the most: the ending. As Nick saves the orphanage, er, community center from being shut down by showing Chaz’s video diary, you can all but hear the director begging for your emotional response. Sadly, the only response it got out of me was a face palm and Snicker.
The disc looks and sounds great with its 5.1 surround mix and anamorphic presentation. There are trailers for other Wolfe Video movies as well as the theatrical trailer for “White Frog” included, but the only true extra is the “Behind the Scenes” featurette which lost my attention pretty fast. It’s mostly a bunch of talking head filler with the actors telling us about their characters – which we can learn by watching the movie.
All in all, “White Frog” earns a respectable 2 out of 4 angels. There are plenty of top-notch performances to go around in this picture and I really wouldn’t be surprised to revisit it in 5 years time and recognize some of the cast as household names. Despite a solid start, the script and direction have their clunky moments (especially towards the finish), but at the end of the day, “White Frog” is worth a watch.