The Miraculous Sleaze of Netflix's "Dear Ex"
Live From The Algorithm is a weekly review series taking a look at the wide variety of Netflix Original Content, from the best to the worst to the outright bizarre.
by Jacob Wallace
Certain discoveries feel like little miracles. The Taiwanese movie Dear Ex, released by Netflix last year, feels like one of those. I went down one of those Netflix rabbit holes where I was clicking through suggestion after suggestion to find something worth watching (read: something that would stop my descent for longer than 30 seconds) and ended up on this cute, hour-and-forty-minute movie.
Dear Ex is the story of a young teenager, Chengxi, attempting to understand the death of his father, who battled with cancer, by meeting and following around his father’s male lover, Jay, with whom he spent the last days of his life. Of course, Chengxi’s mother, Sanlian, takes the news hard, especially when Chengxi starts living with Jay in an effort to understand him, even though she introduced the two when she was trying to get the insurance money back from Jay.
(A gay affair? In my Netflix suggestions? It’s more likely than you’d think.)
The film, bathed in red and crowded with colorful patterns is incredible to soak in in all its maximalism. The addition of doodles that periodically animate the world from Chengxi’s perspective could have been kitschy, but intervene only enough to illustrate an adolescent’s perspective. Jay’s wardrobe itself feels like an advanced notice for 2018’s summer of sleaze that we somehow missed when the movie was released last February. Seriously, look at this, his wardrobe is killer:
In any given scene in his apartment, too, there are individual reminders of the mother, father, and son whose lives he became tied up in. Zhengyuan, the departed lover/father, left behind a guitar that sits tucked in a corner. Chengxi’s pillow fort carves out a space for himself with a pillow fort on Jay’s couch. Sanlian leaves behind food on a crowded table, hoping Chengxi will eat it. In setting alone, it’s clear that Jay is stuck in that middle place between initial grief and something like a healing process.
The movie is technically about Chengxi, and about how he comes to terms with the flawed humanity of his father. But really, the character who sticks with me, and with Chengxi, is Jay. Through superb, mostly unsentimental acting, actor Roy Chiu effectively navigates the wild swings in emotion that his character must struggle with as he comes to terms with his past love. We see through flashbacks that underneath this family drama, there’s an additional story of love and maturation. Jay grows from simple, youthful lover to responsible caretaker for Zhengyuan, and the stretch marks left behind by that growth are obvious in the ways he has to take care of Chengxi.
This movie is one of the best demonstrations yet of Netflix’s ability to bring me a movie that I never would have watched or even heard of on my own, but ended up loving. When it comes to foreign movies in this series, we’re two for two.
Rating: 4 🎭 out of 5 🎭
Possible Netflix Categories: Gay Love Stories, Indie Dramedies, Sleazecore