JFlackJerry Flack reviews the film...

"Under One Roof"

Under-Roof“Under One Roof” 
Directed by Todd Wilson
Written by David Lewis
FMF (Fags Make Films)
TLA Releasing, 2002.

The words “cute” and “sweet” are old fashioned, but they perfectly describe both the plot and the gay characters of this small gem of a film. “Under One Roof” has often been compared to Ang Lee’s much bigger-budgeted and more polished Hollywood feature film, “The Wedding Banquet” (Twentieth Century Fox, 1993), most likely due to the fact that both films feature inter-racial gay couples and explore the apparent Chinese and Chinese-American cultural preoccupation of parents arranging heterosexual marriages for their sons.

 For many gay viewers, “The Wedding Banquet” features a disappointing denouement that seems designed to satisfy straight or mainstream audiences most likely in order to be commercially successful. “Under One Roof” is unashamedly, undeniably, and unapologetically GAY in its very loving ending for two exceptionally likeable guys.

The story is simple. Daniel Chang, the chief protagonist in the story, is a Chinese-American young man who lives in San Francisco. He is a handsome gay man who attempts to live in two separate worlds. He dates guys, he is out of the closet with his straight friends, and he frequents gay venues on Castro Street.

Daniel’s second world is the traditional Chinese home he shares with his mother and grandmother where he attempts to honor the cultural custom of filial devotion to his mother. Mrs. Chang is either clueless or remains in blind denial that her only son is gay. She parades before him a procession of suitable Chinese young women to fulfill her one goal in life that Daniel should choose a bride and begin producing grandchildren.

(An intriguing cultural link in gay films is that the same “males-cannot-leave-home-until-they-marry” rule is also at the heart of the joyous “Mambo Italiano” with its Italian cultural traditions. It seems that the Chinese are not alone in their matrimonial ambitions for their sons.)

Daniel has been largely successful in keeping his mother’s matrimonial attempts at bay. As he says, he has kept his “homo life” and his “home life” separate, but things soon change.  Enter Robert, the new tenant in the Chang’s basement apartment. Robert is handsome, most likely gay, and Daniel falls in love immediately. The feeling is mutual as viewers learn when Robert’s mother arrives for a visit and recognizes that her son has a crush on Daniel. (Robert has moved to San Francisco from “Indiana No Pace” – read Indianapolis –expressly to live OUT of the closet.)  Suddenly, Daniel Chang’s two worlds have collided and are about to implode. If Daniel can keep Robert in the basement, he may be able to hold his own libido in check until he is able to work out a more satisfactory arrangement, perhaps even finding love under the same roof, but fate intervenes in the form of broken plumbing in Robert’s apartment and he soon ends up in Daniel’s bed.

Love triumphs for a time as Robert and Daniel realize their mutual caring and affection. Grandmother Chang delightfully approves of the loving relationship of the guys, but a reckoning day arrives when Mrs. Chang recognizes that Robert is not having the strong heterosexual influence on her son that she had assumed. Plot-wise, Robert is banished to L.A. and two hearts are broken. The third broken heart belongs to Mrs. Change when her son angrily tells her that he is gay and will never have a Chinese bride.

In her remorse and confusion, Mrs. Chang turns to Robert’s mother for understanding. Robert’s mother asks her if it would not be better to have two sons rather than just one or perhaps even none at all.

One of the important but understated themes of  “Under One Roof” is that generational differences are often more difficult for gay people to overcome than racial, cultural, or even sexual diversity prejudices. Mrs. Chang’s solitary goal that her son must marry a Chinese woman is paramount to any other concern she evidences for his happiness. She especially views Amy, the young Chinese woman next door, as the perfect bride for her son. (Amy’s off-screen parents are equally adamant that she should marry a Chinese man.) The parents appear to have the most rigid prejudices. They also fail to realize that their children determined years before to serve as cover for each other. Amy is straight, but her boyfriend is Black. Daniel is gay. Amy and Daniel serve as each other’s dates for Chinese community affairs in order to satisfy the biases their parents hold. Robert and Daniel each have devoted straight girl friends and most importantly, both Daniel and Amy love others despite racial differences.

The final scene of “Under One Roof” is both fun and surprising. Daniel is leisurely chatting with Amy when his indefatigable mother reaches him via cell phone to inform him that she has once more been match making and that the perfect date awaits him at home. Furious with her non-stop meddling in his life, Daniel charges home ready to have a final battle with his “dragon-lady” mother only to discover that the date she has arranged for him is with Robert. As Daniel says, “Mom finally got it right.” Gay love triumphs and reigns in the Chang household. Two sons are better than one after all.

The lead actors are handsome and convincing in their roles. Jay Wong is excellent as the confused Daniel Chang whose attempts to live in two separate, unconnected worlds. The resultant lies cause him to be delusional, unhappy, and to complain, “Their is one truth I cannot avoid. I have no life at all.” James Marks portrays Robert as a sensitive, charming, loving, and ultimately understanding lover. The affection they share is especially appealing.

Three standout supporting characters are Mrs. Chang, convincingly portrayed by Sandra Lee, and the adoring Gram Chang who is deliciously depicted by Vivian Kobayashi, and never more so than when she accidentally discovers Daniel’s XXX gay video collection. There is also Daniel’s flamboyantly gay confidant Tony, wonderfully played by James Quedado, whose idea of a long-term relationship is a three-day weekend at a Russian River gay playground.

In addition to its substantial entertainment value, “Under One Roof” contains a priceless trait and that is the comfortable presence of its bi-racial love story. How much GLBT literature, on the printed page or on the screen, features unselfconscious love between people of different races? When “Under One Roof” does allude to the dissimilarity between Daniel and Robert it is not because they are of different races, but rather because they have been born into conflicting family traditions. Although he is disconsolate to leave Daniel, Robert confides to him his admiration for the filial devotion he demonstrates for his mother. He unhappily admits that their differences represent a condition that he is powerless to change, but its existence does not lessen his love for either Daniel or his mother.

There is frontal nudity in “Under One Roof” that may offend some viewers, but as with much of the rest of the film, the nudity is natural and innocent and not lascivious or pornographic. To once again borrow old-fashioned words, the nude love scenes of Daniel and Robert are “cute” and “sweet” and they reveal the affection, commitment and unselfish understanding of both men.

Much has been made in other reviews of  “Under One Roof” of the poor production values and the disparagement is justified. The camera work is choppy and the sound is poor. The casting and writing are also far from perfect. Robert’s mother is a case in point. It seems improbable that she would be both physically taller and larger than her fully grown adult son, and whereas her support for her gay son may qualify her for the PFLAG Mother-of –the-Year award, there is virtually no screen time devoted to explaining how she evolved into such an accepting and loving parent. Indeed, in her awkwardly filmed first scene, she is portrayed as being a meddler in her son’s life. It is unfortunate that the technical aspects of the movie are so poor because its overall amateurish appearance may prevent viewers from connecting with both the touching love story as well as the especially honest examination of cross-cultural gay relationships that are at the heart of the film.

Look past the deficiencies of the production values of “Under One Roof ” and embrace the delightfulness of the love story that it tells and hope that director Todd Wilson has earned the kind of budget he deserves to produce top-notch gay films that are fashioned with superior equipment, know-how, and expertise, but that never lose sight of the kind of heart-warming celebration of gay love realized. 

Jerry Flack, Denver, Colorado


Jerry is a retired professor of education from the University of Colorado. He lives in Denver, Colorado with his partner of fourteen years, who is also a retired educator. He loves reading, especially gay literature, and watching gay cinema (current favorites are "ROAD TRIP" and "GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN"), and traveling throughout the glorious Southwest, especially in Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, and the Colorado Rockies.


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