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Gabbing about 'The Joy Luck Club'

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Spanning more than 60 years, the story of The Joy Luck Club weaves together the lives of four Chinese women and their thorny relationships with their Americanized daughters. How well does the movie succeed in giving the mother-daughter themes universal appeal? To find out, EW’s Patricia Sellers and her mother, Charlotte, a Pennsylvania homemaker — who loves movies but has been caught napping during them — agreed to watch the video and to review it together.

Patricia: You stayed awake! That tribute, from you, is akin to an Oscar.

Charlotte: Yes. But at first — oh! I thought we were in for two hours of something terrible.

Patricia: Ten minutes in, I had to stir you. I agree, the beginning of this movie drags. Are you glad you stuck it out?

Charlotte: Yes, I really liked it.

Patricia: I’m surprised. You usually like movies that are a lot of fun. Or star Richard Gere. Or deliver a twist and turn a minute, like The Fugitive.

Charlotte: There wasn’t much action here. But it held my attention.

Patricia: Personally, I found it very manipulative emotionally. And I just couldn’t get past my dislike of so many of the people in it. I found them annoying and selfish and whiny.

Charlotte: The mothers are manipulative.

Patricia: These mothers so much want their daughters to have self-worth because they themselves didn’t feel it growing up. But their views of self-worth are so superficial. They’re based on other people’s images of them. No wonder their daughters fell into dead-end marriages.

Charlotte: There are a lot of terrible people in this movie. But I had sympathy for all of them. Even that mother Lindo (Tsai Chin).

Patricia: Right — the woman who as a teenager was forced into the horrible marriage with the impotent boy. She was a bitch.

Charlotte: She’s so conniving. She knows just what strings to pull to upset her daughter.

Patricia: I found the relationship between her and (her daughter) Waverly (Tamlyn Tomita) the most interesting — and disturbing — of the bunch.

Charlotte: It’s terrible for a daughter to try so hard and not be able to please. In a way — and this isn’t nice to say — Lindo reminded me of my mother. I could never please her. Certainly I never made you feel that way.

Patricia: No, you absolutely didn’t. So this movie really struck a chord in you. But I noticed that, as usual, no tears from Charlotte.

Charlotte: You cried.

Patricia: A little, when the music swelled at the end.

Charlotte: I found that scene very stirring. I feel the emotion. I just don’t cry.

Patricia: Have you ever cried?

Charlotte: Oh, yeah. But it’s been years. Years! I remember The Halls of Montezuma, or The Walls of Iwo Jima, or something. During the war. I think Betty Hutton was in the movie. She was a jazzy little blond. I cried a lot.

Patricia: Okay. Fast-forward. Is The Joy Luck Club a women’s film?

Charlotte: Yes, definitely.

Patricia: I think so, too. Almost every man in this movie is a cad or a buffoon. That annoys me.

Charlotte: I got annoyed trying to keep track of which daughter belongs to which mother. Those flashbacks make it even more confusing.

Patricia: This is definitely not a movie to rent on a Friday night after a rough week at work and watch lackadaisically.

Charlotte: Yeah, you’d have to run it again to get all the characters straight.

Patricia: This is a movie that you really have to…

Charlotte: Concentrate.

Patricia: Totally absorb yourself in. I do think the director, though, moved pretty cleverly from one story to the next.

Charlotte: It was Oliver Stone, wasn’t it?

Patricia: No, Stone is the executive producer. The director is Wayne Wang.

Charlotte: Some of those scenes, especially ones in China, were pretty elaborate.

Patricia: I think the movie has a rich look that comes across even on small screens. What did you think of the performances?

Charlotte: Wonderful. Especially the woman who played Lindo.

Patricia: I found the dialogue a bit speechy, the language stilted. But I think that’s partly because most of these characters are speaking English as a second language. You know, this movie has an R rating. Does that surprise you?

Charlotte: Yes. It does. There was only s— and two f—s. (Laughing) Andrew McCarthy called his mother an a–hole. Geez, I think kids are used to those words today.

Patricia: My mother is cursing in a national magazine?

Charlotte: (Laughing) You’re going to make me look like a nut, aren’t you?

Patricia: No, only a saucy critic. What grade do you give the movie?

Charlotte: I’ll give it a B+.

Patricia: I say B-.

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