Sandra Oh really just came out of the gate swinging like this.
Sandra Oh earned her breakout in this warm, candid Canadian indie, which — not uncoincidentally — shares its name with that of a decorative Chinese symbol associated with marriage. The movie’s title is also a reference to 22-year-old Jade Li’s (Oh) struggle to pursue her own ambitions and meet the clashing romantic and professional expectations her disapproving first-generation immigrant parents have for her. As she puts it, “Double happiness is when you make yourself happy and everyone else happy, too.”
An aspiring actress who dreams of playing Blanche DuBois, Jade is instead asked by unimaginative casting directors to adopt a pronounced Chinese accent for tiny bit parts. In essence, she’s typecast everywhere: on set, and at home, where she struggles to play the good daughter who’ll give up acting for a more conventional job and will only marry a man her parents approve of. It’s a jarring existence, but Double Happiness never feels claustrophobic because it gives Jade the freedom to finally be herself via witty, confessional monologues and fantasy sequences. There’s undoubtedly bittersweetness to this portrait of a young woman fighting to be herself on every front, but that it's nevertheless such an irresistibly charming, never-flippant watch is a testament to first-time director Mina Shum and Oh’s already mature talents.
An instantly charming presence, Sandra Oh is a huge part of why the movie pulls off its deft tonal balance between sincerity and humor, especially in scenes where she wryly makes fun of people’s perceptions of her (like when she meets a guy who assumes she can’t speak English, and coyly plays up to the part before revealing the truth). Oh sparkles in the film's fourth-wall-breaking monologue sequences, which makes for a moving contrast with the movie’s real-world scenes, in which Jade appears shrunken by all the pressure put on her shoulders. It’s no wonder her work here won her Canada’s Oscar (a Genie Award) for Best Actress — a pretty incredible achievement for a first feature role.