Nail salon owner Wenhua is dealing with miscarriage after miscarriage, unable to carry a child to term. Meanwhile her husband — who shuttles the salon employees back and forth from their homes to their workplace — may be sleeping with one of her younger employees, who has a secret of her own.
Writer-director Lu Han offers a piercing, intimate look at the emotional life of a couple who have come to the U.S. and established the foothold of a better life, but are struggling with the next step of building a family together.
The film is built on strong, sensitively calibrated performances, which often underplay the roiling emotions and situations the characters are dealing with. The approach celebrates the everyday interactions, glances, silences and gestures that actually build or destroy our relationships, turning what could be melodrama into a beautifully observed chamber piece.
When the film’s main character suspects all is not right in the workplace she runs or the marriage she’s trying to hold together, she has a choice to either turn to bitterness or grow towards compassion. Lead actor Alice Ko charts Wenhua’s arc with precision, and the result in an honest journey into one woman’s grappling with the truth and what that means for the life she and her husband have built for themselves in the U.S.
It also offers a window in the workings of a seemingly innocuous space that most Americans take for granted. Nail salons are everywhere, whether in the strip malls of suburbia or nestled on the corners of busy streets. They’re tucked away and often busy, thanks to their cheap prices and quick service.
But Lu Han adds complexity to the picture, showing the hard work and behind-the-scenes struggles of the people who run them. Combined with the tense emotional drama deftly portrayed in the film, the salon becomes a pressure cooker: a trap, as well as an opportunity to progress in life.
The result is a film that’s not just about one woman’s shift in how she sees herself and her marriage, but a rich examination of what it means to be in a community and find emotional sustenance in it. At the film’s end, nothing concrete is resolved — but each character finds a different understanding of what it means to care and be responsible for one another.