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Daily Helping for September 9th, 2021 – Dear Ex

A photo still from the film Dear Ex. Actor Joseph Huang is sitting on a motorcycle, wearing a helmet and looking down and away from Roy Chiu who is standing next to the motorcycle and looking intently at him.

Today’s helping is yet another incredible film. It would seem that this was the week for character driven stories, and I loved every second of it. Although, I should note that Dear Ex has considerably more plot than Nomadland. But then again, that’s not a particularly hard task. Regardless, what I loved about both films was how the discovery of the characters happens slowly over the course of the film. You’re not told up front who these people are. Instead, they are revealed, piece by piece, until the whole story comes into focus.

In Dear Ex, the story revolves around three people. Jay, a free-spirited man whose lover has just died, leaving Jay the beneficiary of his life insurance policy, San-lian, the bitter ex-wife of Jay’s lover, and her teenaged son, Cheng-xi. San-lian is determined that the insurance money should go to her son. Jay had no idea he had been named beneficiary at all, and he is quite exasperated at the sudden intrusion in his life by both mother and son. And Cheng-xi finds himself caught in the middle, bitterly angry at the two adults in his life. In other words, a typical teenager.

It’s a wonderfully complicated set up, and as the film progresses, you slowly start to realize that nothing is straightforward. Character motivations are slowly revealed that uncover layers upon layers of meaning behind each person’s actions. Backstories bring nuance to everyone, and there are no “good” or “bad” characters. Just three deeply flawed individuals trying to process their grief and reconcile the tragedy of their lives. A tragedy that could have been wholly avoided if we would just let people be themselves and love who they want.

In the end, Dear Ex offers no easy answers. But it does offer hope. Hope for the future and hope for these characters. It also features one of the most quietly beautiful scenes between a mother and son that I’ve ever seen on film, but I won’t spoil it. You’ll just have to discover it for yourself.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!