3 Peas In A Pod ä
Remember your college days? Those were blissful times for most: a snapshot of a moment when you were too young to have to deal with grown-up responsibilities like mortgages and a job, but old enough to go on a backpacking trip with your best friends. Actor-turned-director Michelle Chong's second feature film, 3 Peas In A Pod, is most effective when it tries to capture those heady, reckless days of youth and freedom. But, in the film's final, very strange half hour, the dialogue and acting skills of its young cast - variable in quality throughout - become less forgiveable just when they need to really step up to the plate and deliver.
The 3 Peas of the film's title are a trio of best friends: Penny (newcomer Jae Liew), Peter (Alexander Lee Eusebio) and Perry (Calvin Chen of Taiwanese boyband Fahrenheit). Their college years have come to an end, and angsty rich boy Peter suggests that they take a trip across Australia before they must return to their respective home countries. Along the way, their friendship deepens but is also sorely tested, as the three try to figure out just what they're feeling while trapped in an awkward, hormonally-charged triangle of love and a little lust.
There are little moments in 3 Peas In A Pod that work quite well. Her three young, telegenic leads - all making their cinematic debuts, with Liew never having acted before - share a believable chemistry in the film's more light-hearted moments. Everything looks great: Chong is clearly working with a larger budget and more sponsors after the runaway success of her first film, Almost Famous. This means she has the resources to bring her camera into the sky, and she captures some lovely aerial footage of this road trip across the unspoilt natural beauty of the Australian countryside.
What works considerably less well is Chong's script. The first hour or so is passably fluffy, as Penny pines after Peter and Perry tries to get in the way. The dialogue isn't particularly good, but it's adequate. Then, Chong switches gears, throwing a twist in near the end of the film that's intriguing in its intent but hopelessly flawed in its execution. In retrospect, it's easy to see what she's going for: the shift in tone is meant to lend depth and complexity to an otherwise feather-light chronicle of these three friends' literal and romantic (mis)adventures.
But it all unfolds like a poorly-cut soap opera. Chong splices earlier moments together in a montage that could easily alienate or annoy audiences, driving home the point of her tale in so obvious a way that it makes her characters seem more creepy than complicated. It doesn't help that her three lead actors aren't quite strong enough to carry the darker aspects of the material. Chen does the best, most impressive work, but it feels like a thankless task for the poor man when all is said, done and revealed.
There's a good story lurking somewhere in the heart of 3 Peas In A Pod. It's hard to shake the feeling that Chong could have found more emotional truth and power if she had played the anguish of love - requited and unrequited - in a more straightforward, less sensationalistic manner. Instead, any social messages her film contains are buried beneath layers of artifice and over-zealous editing.
Summary: A road trip that could have gone somewhere - but winds up quite hopelessly lost.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars