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'Starry Starry Night' skims the surface: review

September 13, 2012|By Robert Abele
  • Josie Xu and Eric Lin Hui Ming star in the China Lion release "Starry Starry Night."
Josie Xu and Eric Lin Hui Ming star in the China Lion release "Starry… (China Lion )

The visual language of childhood imagination is what drives "Starry Starry Night," Taiwanese director Tom Shu-Yu Lin's studied, melancholy movie about a sad young girl who falls for the school outcast.

With her parents' marriage crumbling, art-conscious seventh-grader Mei (Josie Xu) longs to be back at the enchanted cottage of her ailing grandfather, where the pain of real-world matters falls away and the universe seems excitingly vast. She finds a like-minded companion in new kid Jay (Eric Lin Hui Ming), who copes with a similarly broken home life by drawing in his sketchbook.

Mei's refuge is in jigsaw puzzles of famous paintings, but in a movie whose alienation themes are already stylized to a significant extent — through computer-generated dreamscapes, slow-motion and center-frame compositions reminiscent of Wes Anderson — the repeated metaphor of a missing puzzle piece starts to feel synthetic and distancing.

Overall Lin's film is a sympathetic portrait of preteen dislocation, with some resplendent visuals: a snowflake that becomes a tear on Mei's cheek, which falls and bursts on a train ticket. But the cumulative effect is more that of a handsomely crafted museum piece than a moving, emotional journey.

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"Starry Starry Night." No MPAA rating; in Mandarin, with English and Chinese subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. At AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterey Park.

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