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“A Picture of You”: An Off-Beat Family Mystery

June 16, 2014

By Pete Barell
Arts and Entertainment Editor

Jen (Jo Mei) and Kyle (Andrew Pang) are two predictably combative siblings, forced to be together after the death of their mother (Jodi Long, seen in flashbacks). They must clean out their old childhood home in rural Pennsylvania, essentially throwing away physical memories. Cooped up together, the siblings grieve in contrasting ways – butting heads all the while.

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of

Kyle is the supposed responsible adult, the older divorced brother who took care of his mother in her final months, whereas Jen is a couldn’t-be-bothered hipster, chock full of excuses. They are joined by her wannabe tech-geek boyfriend Doug (Lucas Dixon) (think Chris Pratt from “Parks & Recreation”), and best-friend Mika (Teyonah Parris), who supply emotional support, humor and some marijuana. Kyle deals with their presence, at first an annoyance, by chugging beers and bike riding around town, detaching himself. The dynamic is similar to typical cabin-in-the-woods horror films – a group of very naive people who can’t seem to get along, crammed into a single location – but without a sadistic killer or force in the story.

The siblings discover some, well, graphic photos on a hard drive, revealing that their mother may have had a lover in her final years. This notion hits them hard – Why didn’t she mention him? Who is this man? How will I ever get these scarring images out of my head? This complication, reluctantly brought into open discussion, brings the group of misfits together, creating a bickering, clumsy team of detectives.

A whodunit revels in the satisfaction of surprise. “A Picture of You” seems to give attention only to overcooked humor and forced awkward moments. When the big reveal happens, it is charged with purposely humorous shock-value, which cheapens the reality of it and the impact on the characters. Kyle and Jen have their obligatory making up moment; their relationship becomes closer after they realize that their mother harbored secrets just like them. Their character arcs are very apparent, played out in a stale and recognizable way.

“A Picture of You,” is yet another film that attempts to defy categorization, but ends up doing the opposite. Shaky handheld camerawork in the film is distracting and coercive – projecting conflict on a story full of shabby sentiment. Yet, the lush visuals of Pennsylvania and an airy lullaby-like score uplift the film where needed. The general minimalism overall of the rural setting and small cast is commendable, but is never filled out by gripping characters that go beyond seeming like fill-ins for an elongated sit-com episode.

J.P. Chan’s tongue-in-cheek debut feature is a droll family film that treads on all-too-familiar terrain. Not without entertaining moments, the film is, simply put: too simply put. Cookie-cutter movies might make a brief treat, but don’t forget that film is art, and good art isn’t a hit-and-run chuckle.

“A Picture of You” will open on June 20 at AMC Loews Village VII in New York, before expanding to additional cities.

Verdict: C +

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