THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
One of the basic facts about movies is that there's a big difference between intention and execution. A film can have its heart in the right place, yet still fail to achieve the impact it desires. 33 Postcards is a perfect example. It begins promisingly, setting up a story that seems as though it will be both sweet and emotional. Then, about halfway through, the picture loses its way, never to get back on track.
Zhu Lin plays Mei Mei, a Chinese orphan whose education has long been sponsored by an Australian man named Dean Randall (Guy Pearce). The two have exchanged postcards forever, with Dean telling her all about his wonderful home and family. He expresses a desire to meet her someday. When the orphanage's choir travels to Australia to participate in a festival, she slips away to find Dean, only to discover that everything he's told her has been a lie. He is actually a convict, serving time in prison. Mei Mei struggles to understand why he was deceitful and why he doesn't want to see her. As you may have guessed, Dean is tormented by a lot of guilt, which Mei Mei's appearance forces him to confront.
This is the first half of 33 Postcards, and while perhaps nothing terribly new, it does work. Mei Mei's confusion and Dean's guilt are compelling. We get the sense that these two troubled characters are going to experience some form of personal healing from finally meeting. But then the film gets really bogged down in a ridiculous crime subplot, as Mei Mei falls in with a car thief and Dean is trapped in an extortion plot that forces him to pay money to one of the car thief's prison flunkies in exchange for not getting shanked.
The two halves of the movie simply don't gel. Unfortunately, 33 Postcards is merely the latest in a long line of films that throw in needless crime subplots as a way of shortcutting. I've seen this sort of thing time and time again. Director/co-writer Pauline Chan wants to tell a story about two damaged souls who heal each other, but she doesn't know how to get Dean and Mei Mei there without resorting to these unconvincing and labored contrivances. Zhu Lin and Guy Pearce give solid, committed performances. We don't want to see them in shootouts or chases. We want to see them talk, open up, get vulnerable. Chan can only take that so far, and then she essentially throws her hands up in the air.
Despite the appealing leads and the promising start, the movie goes downhill quickly, betraying the human story it set up. Too bad, because, had it stuck with the character-based material and forsaken the action, 33 Postcards might have been a really beautiful, touching film. Instead, it's just a disappointment.
( out of four)
Note: 33 Postcards is available on VOD now, and will be released theatrically on May 17.
33 Postcards is unrated but contains some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.
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