The trailer feels like Girls meets This Is Where I Leave You. In She Lights Up Well, Sophie (played by the film’s writer and director, Joyce Wu) is a struggling Asian American actress living in New York City, and whose last big break was for an undocumented massage parlour worker and who is forced by mounting bills to move back home and into her parents’ house in Detroit. “This is just temporary,” Sophie insists to anyone who will listen, “I’m just saving up enough money to move back to New York.”
There, Sophie finds herself drawn into directing the local community theatre’s production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado”, after the company’s original director unexpectedly quits. Compelled to save the production and protect the theatre from closure by city council, and smitten when she reunites with an old high school crush (Zach, played by Sean Kleier), Sophie finds herself on a journey of renewal and self-discovery (trailer after the jump).
In addition to starring Wu, She Lights Up Well features a few other familiar Asian American faces. Brian Yang of Hawaii Five-O fame plays David while the indomitable Tsai Chin appears as Sophie’s grandmother and castmember of the local theatre troupe’s “Mikado” production.
It’s unclear based on the trailer alone whether the film acknowledges or tackles “The Mikado”‘s ongoing racial controversy, however more general themes of Asian American identity and womanhood appear to prominently influence the film’s story and trajectory. In the film’s press release, Wu acknowledges her interest in creating more films starring strong Asian American women.
“I wanted to address the dearth of films with Asian American characters and strong female protagonists by featuring both in a fun, satisfying, relatable story,” Wu said. “Sophie’s life isn’t where she thought it would be by now: she’s broke, single and without any professional accomplishments to speak of. Moving home feels like the ultimate sign of failure, but it’s where she ends up finding herself. She goes from an insecure, self-defeating actress waiting to be discovered to someone who, in true American fashion, is in control of her own destiny.”
She Lights Up Well — which has received a 7.8 out of 10 user rating on IMDB — has appeared at several film festivals late last year and early this year, including at San Francisco’s CAAMFest 2015 in March.
The film is currently available for viewing through iTunes and Video On Demand services.