Confetti: a poignant if formulaic medical drama

Drawn from writer/director Ann Hu’s own experience, Confetti manages to downplay its own contrivances to deliver a moving film about a dyslexic girl named Meimei and her illiterate mother, who relocate from China to New York to find treatment for Meimei.

20 October 2022

By Tim Hayes

Harmonie He as Meimei in Confetti (2021)
Sight and Sound

Confetti is evidently well aware of the obligations that fall upon films about childhood health and parental anguish, the basic template and plot delivery tactics invoked by the kind of disability-of-the-week shows that were once so common to US network television. Templates often work, though – even the ones that work up a soap-opera froth.

Confetti’s plot centres around preternaturally winsome nine-year-old Meimei (Harmonie He), whose inability to correctly read or write leads visiting American teacher Thomas (George Christopher) to suspect that she is dyslexic. The school’s headteacher, clearly in the business of delivering standardised classes and under the impression that dyslexia might be a dangerous communicable disease, offers no help, so Meimei’s mother Lan (Zhu Zhu) relocates – with somewhat unconvincing ease – to New York, where she begins seeking treatment. Their very first point of contact is author Helen (Amy Irving), who turns out to be exactly the kind of flinty maverick such a mission requires – a bruised campaigner not just in need of her own emotional rescue after the loss of a child, but wheelchair-bound to boot.

The film’s central tensions are revealed early, in order to draw audience empathy as directly as possible, and the political and cultural obstacles faced by the characters in their native China are framed only briefly before said characters relocate to the US, where medical dilemmas centring around the constraints imposed by money or resources will be familiar to viewers, and clinic doors will open if you just keep on keeping on.

Drawn from writer/director Ann Hu’s own experience, Confetti tries hard to downplay its own contrivances and takes care not to obscure our view of the actors or their faces, which is where most of the action is. The film relies heavily on Lan’s commitment to Meimei, and on her rising despair while also attempting to navigate her own situation as an immigrant with a low-paying job; in other words, it relies on Zhu to convey all this without tipping into wholesale pathos. It’s a close-run thing, especially since the story reveals that Lan is herself illiterate and has never been able to read or write in her own language. She sends voice messages rather than texts to her husband, kidding herself that he hasn’t spotted it. The parallels this duly opens up between mother and daughter conjure a few universal parental torments (“she is going to be a waste, like me,” moans Lan at one point) potent enough for their shadows to remain after the film’s last-minute breakthroughs and fortuitous coincidences have faded.

► Confetti is in UK cinemas from tomorrow.

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