Tom Huang, Anthony Montgomery, Emma Caulfield, Sheetal Sheth, Lynn Chen, Joe Torry, Tamlyn Tomita
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Lester (Anthony Montgomery, Star Trek: Enterprise) wants to be comedy's Next Jerry Seinfeld. His half-brother and manager (Joe Torry) pushes him to be edgier and angry.
Tony (Tom Huang, Freshmen) longs to be taken seriously as an actor, but keeps getting pegged for stereotypical Chinese sushi chefs and Asians with funny accents.
Centering around these two young men, Huang's entertaining and insightful Why Am I Doing This? is a rather light yet pointed exploration of the difficult that non-white actors face in a Hollywood ruled by mass appeal and stereotypes.
While Why Am I Doing This? occasionally falls victim to its intertwining of too many story threads, the world that writer/director Tom Huang creates is appealing largely on the strength of both Huang and Montgomery's performances as they deal with interracial relationships, dysfunctional families, unpredictable careers and much, much more.
Lester pays the bills with a not so popular job as a meter maid while hanging out with his galpal, Nira (Sheetal Sheth, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World), who doesn't quite feel the same way. His bipolar fashion model mother, Natalie (Valarie Pettiford, Why Did I Get Married Too?), is divorcing his father, Cliff (Obba Bobatunde, The Eye), who seems to have already moved on quite nicely with a Salvadorean restaurant owner.
Tony, on the other hand, spends most of his days fending off his arch Asian-American acting rival, Tim Chung (Teddy Chen Culver), who seems to get all the great parts. On the home front, Tony has to keep his thug lovin' brother (Dion Basco) out of trouble while resisting pressure from his sister (Tamlyn Tomita, The Eye) to take a job with her company. He hangs out with young actress hottie Amber (Emma Caulfield) because she's well, hot, but also finds himself to attracted to Katie (Lynn Chen), who works with him as a costumed character for children's parties.
Whew. Still following?
There's too much going on, but Huang has a gift for dialogue and the cast seems genuinely invested in what's going on in Why Am I Doing This?, a fact evidenced by the film's winning Best Feature Film at the Houston Comedy Film Festival, Best Narrative Feature Film at the Philadelphia Asian-American Film Festival and a Director's New Vision Award at Cinequest 19.
A huge part of what sells the film is its genuine heart, especially when Anthony Montgomery is front and center. Montgomery, a native of Indianapolis and grandson of legendary jazz musician Wes Montgomery, may not be the next Jerry Seinfeld, but he's a damn fine actor in his own right. Montgomery's performance here contains elements of heart, humor and honesty that blend together to near perfection. His scenes with Sheetal Sheth, who was transformative in Albert Brooks' Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, are simply wonderful.
Writing, director and starring in a film is a tall task for even the most experienced actor, but Huang handles it like a pro with a performance that is relaxed, grounded and authentic. While it could be expected that he'd be comfortable with his own material, Huang's performance is fresh and funny throughout. He's aided by a strong supporting cast, most notably Tamlyn Tomita as his more "responsible" sister.
A modestly budgeted indie, Why Am I Doing This? largely avoids the usual tech issues that can plague an indie flick with the exception of an occasionally muffled sound mix. Jeff Bollman's camera work is solid, Timo Chen's original score appropriately light and entertaining.
Even when it's a tad convoluted, Why Am I Doing This? is never less than interesting and entertaining. Behind the strong chemistry of its co-leads and Huang's insightful dialogue, this is one film worth checking out.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic