The unbearable pain of a tragic death eventually leads the remaining members of the Young family to abandon their comfort zones as they try to cope in director Quentin Lee's moving family drama "White Frog", a film that brings together a heartthrob cast in a plot of unexpected twists and turns.
Chaz Young (Harry Shum, Jr.) is the "perfect" son and idolized older brother who serves as best friend, mentor and protector to his brilliant younger brother, Nick (Booboo Stewart) who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome. "B-mod," reminds Chaz, when Nick's emotions hurtle him over the social edge, a reference to the technique of behavior modification, which Chaz desperately believes will ultimately help Nick.
Chaz's untimely demise propels Nick to seek out Chaz's life. He begins by attending his brother's popular friends' weekly poker game, a major feat for the social disaster that is Nick, universally viewed as a weird loser. Each step of Nick's journey in which he discovers the secrets of his brother's life demands another comfort zone breach. So too with Chaz's friends and family, as they each grapple with their perceived notions of Chaz and Nick against the reality facing them.
Stewart steals the show in this film as he portrays the inner emotional turmoil of Asperger's through silent, stiff postures, downcast eyes, darting, furtive glances and, when his emotions best him, spitting out sentences in twitchy temper tantrums and clenched body. But his performance is amply balanced by Shum's portrayal of Chaz's warm, inclusive heart, and Chaz's other friends, Randy (Gregg Sulkin); Doug (Tyler Posey); Cameron (Justin Martin); and Ajit (Manish Dayal). BD Wong and Joan Chen play the brothers' conservative parents struggling with overwhelming grief, dashed hopes and impression management.
Lots of people have secrets in this film. As the plot unravels them, the characters learn that voicing them gives them freedom and the ability to move on. Despite being pat at the very end, "White Frog" is a heart-warming examination of families, friends, secrets and the differences we each have but all share.
The film has been shown in mostly Asian-American or Asian festivals, which is a bit unfortunate as the cast is ethnically diverse, the film's themes universal, and the film itself deserves a wide audience.
Oh, and the meaning of the white frog? It doesn't come until almost the end of the film. But it's well worth the wait -- a delightful metaphor that nicely wraps up the film.