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Review: Confetti – “There is optimism and hope in its presentation”

A good friend of mine, a dedicated mother to a young boy with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) recently commented to me about how ‘seen’ she felt while watching the TV show Parenthood. In it, Monica Potter’s character is also mother to a son with ASD and my friend could see many parallels in their lives. It was comforting, as she worried about whether or not she needed to drive his particular pair of goggles to the summer camp he was attending, to know that she was not alone in her concern for these details that, to her son, are monumental.

Yes, representation matters, and seeing part of yourself on screen often brings more connection to a story, just as seeing a life different from yours helps to keep you openminded.  As such, I think many will find a space in their heart for Confettithe story of a young girl who sees the world differently, who learns differently.  Dyslexia has affected many people you might recognize from Tom Cruise to Steven Spielberg and even Albert Einstein.  But for young Meimei (Harmonie He), her incredible talents are still untapped.

In a small town in China, Lan (Zhu Zhu) drops her daughter Meimei off for her first day school, apprehensive while she continues her work cleaning outside the classroom.  As the children introduce themselves to their teachers, Meimei is asked to write her name on the chalkboard and instead draws a flower.  She is immediately ridiculed by her classmates and considered less intelligent by her principal and teachers.  Each teacher except one, her English teacher Thomas (George Christopher) who recognizes Meimei’s capacity to learn, just in a very different way.  He is the first person to call her smart, and introduces the family to the idea she may be dyslexic.

However, in China, there is no support system for Meimei, no place for her to learn in the standardized educational system.  Lan is told that she just must accept Meimei isn’t “normal.” Instead, Lan decides that she needs to do everything she can to support her daughter’s education, and with Thomas’ help she and Meimei depart for America, a place she knows little about and without speaking much English at all.  Thomas’ friend in New York City, Helen McClellan (Amy Irving), a writer, reluctantly lets them stay at her apartment.  As their relationship grows, together the two women navigate the difficulties of getting Meimei the specialized education she needs despite the unique challenges they encounter.

Written and directed by Ann HuConfetti is a personal and sincere film.  Based on Hu’s own experiences, and those of families she encountered on her own journey, it is clear that the film portrays the struggles of many through the story of one.  Though, the nature of Lan’s immigration status and her low-wage work at a garment factory also lend a unique lens through which this particular story plays out.  It unfortunately endangers Meimei’s possible placement in the school that she needs and initially restrict’s Lan’s ability to help her daughter, both legally and financially.  These extra challenges add another layer to the film, making it more compelling.

While Confetti is relatively predictable in its ending, there is optimism and hope in its presentation which makes the journey worthwhile.  Much of this stems from the beautiful performance from young Harmonie He who is a bright star that will at times break your heart, especially while thinking of all the other children like her who may never get their chance to shine.  Zhu Zhu, whom you might recognize from her work in Cloud Atlas or the Netflix series Marco Polo, is quite captivating as Lan, a determined mother who will go to any lengths to help her child.

Confetti challenges the many misunderstandings and stigma surrounding dyslexia.  As the film’s end credits will tell you, 1 in 10 people may actually have dyslexia – quite a high proportion of the population.  Yet many of these children still get left behind within the educational system, making the need to recognize this syndrome essential.  Meimei’s genius was always there, waiting under the surface for the right person to discover how to unlock it, how to get her to reach her full potential and even exceed expectations.  She may never be normal, but in recognizing that ‘normal’ has its limitations both as a label and in definition, Lan learned to embrace her daughter’s differences, as well as her own.  It’s a lesson always worth a reminder for all.  Confetti will speak to many people, but for those families who have dyslexia as part of their story I feel, like my friend did with the representation she found on screen, that you’ll find comfort and recognition in this heartfelt film.

Confetti is in theatres August 20th.

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