Film Review: 'Little Big Women'

Posted on
The New York Times by Natalia Winkelman
In the Taiwanese melodrama “Little Big Women,” a matriarch and her three adult daughters grieve a complicated loss. Early in the film, the sisters learn that their father, long absent from their lives, has passed away. Embracing sentimentality in every scene, this occasionally endearing and often cloying film examines what it means to mourn someone who was already gone.
Streaming on Netflix after a successful box office run in Taiwan, the film follows Lin Shoying (CHEN Shu-fang), a restaurant owner whose family confronts a number of crises over the course of this slow-moving story. But her biggest heartbreak comes in the opening minutes, when her 70th birthday is interrupted by the death of her estranged husband. As Shoying grudgingly arranges his funeral, she privately vows to track down his most recent romantic partner.
Her daughters face dramas of their own. The eldest, Ching (HSIEH Ying-xuan), encounters health issues. Jiajia (SUN Ke-fang) resents Shoying’s pushiness. And the successful doctor Yu (Vivian HSU) puts undue pressure on her own daughter, the sunny Clementine (Buffy CHEN). As the sisters struggle, the director Joseph Chen-chieh Hsu peppers small moments of humor — most memorably, a cockroach that appears during an incense ceremony — amid the distress.
But even such charms become bogged down by the movie’s schmaltz. A gentle panning camera and a bland score milk every scene for emotion, and at more than two hours, the women’s journeys drag. By the time it is over, “Little Big Women” has lost any sense of restorative power — all that registers is tedium.