By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
Who says Oscar bait needs to be Hollywood? Countries the world over make pandering far aimed at awards bodies like Korea’s Blue Dragon awards, and they often succeed.
The only surprise in this film is that it didn’t somehow star Eddie Redmayne.
I Can Speak is ostensibly a broad comedy about a young civil servant who does everything by the book and the granny he butts heads with who has submitted over 5,000 official complaints to the city. Then it becomes a heartwarming May/December friendship tale as he teaches her English to talk to her long-lost brother who lives in the United States. Finally, she goes to Washington to speak about her horrific experiences on the behalf of a bill censuring Japan for their officially sanctioned kidnapping, rape, and worse of Comfort Women during World War II. And at least that part is based on a true story? What?
First off, Na Moon-hee, who plays Granny Ok Boon, is great- everything you’d want your sassy grandma to be at first, then navigating the extreme tonal shifts of the rest of the film better than anyone. You never feel like she’s a character, empathizing and laughing with her the whole trip- she won the Korean equivalent of Best Actress for the role, and my reservations regarding the rest of the film notwithstanding, she deserved it.
A national treasure.
The beginning of the film is often charming if a bit contrived, and there are some laughs to be had. Essentially, the movie that was advertised was fine.
It’s all pretty contrived, though- you see pretty much every plot development a mile away, and once the big shift in the film comes, all of the dominoes that were unsubtly set up earlier in the film fall precisely in the order you expect them to.
So, about that extremely abrupt tonal shift. It’s like the producer took the screenwriter’s screenplay, ripped out the last 10 pages, and said “Grandma Smith Goes to Washington!” Or, more accurately, it’s like the producers of the film had one script about an inspiring and important true story and said, “We can’t sell this! Let’s Frankenstein it together with this mediocre comedy script and then people might watch it”.
From there the plot becomes even more predictable and way more hackneyed. The budget starts to strain as much as your credulity. Seriously, what congressman would stand up in front of an old woman testifying teary-eyed about the crimes perpetrated against her and call her a liar? I don’t give politicians much credit, but they’re smarter than that. It’s near insulting what they think the audience will believe in these scenes just to set up a triumphant finale that would have been far more effective if they hadn’t tried to artificially raise the stakes.
Even Donald Drumpf has better sense than to be caught insulting grandmas on camera.
I Can Speak, despite a fine performance from its lead, is a tonal mess that fuses two different movies that never should have been.
I Can Speak (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time she files a complaint
Take a Drink: whenever the younger brother shows up. Seriously, why is he here?
Take a Drink: for every English lesson
Take a Drink: whenever the civil servant does something anal
Do a Shot: for mind-blowing plot or tone changes