The Stand-In by Lily Chu 

OMG just go ahead and make this movie already. Pretty, pretty please with Henry Golding, Takeshi Kaneshiro or Ross Butler on top? I mean, look how good Crazy Rich Asians did! This is like Crazy Rich Asians only set in Toronto, with a heroine who is equal parts learning-to-be-healthy and obsessed with organization apps/journals/systems.

When she makes crazy decisions like, “why yes I’ll pretend to be this mega-famous Chinese actress when I don’t speak Mandarin or even write characters” it doesn’t come off as stupid– it comes off as taking a healthy chance and getting money to take care of her mother (who has Altzheimers and is in a special care home).

And even though she agrees to an unhealthy fake relationship with Fangli Wei’s mega-hot Sam Yao, every step of the way she creates boundaries, stands up for herself, and follow thru with both her decisions and recognizing her responsibility in mistakes. It was sooooo refreshing.

And somehow Lily Chu takes the old tired tropes (fake boyfriend, forced proximity, etc) and makes them readable and not just plot points. For instance, long after Gracie is attracted to Sam, she is forced to do a promo where she must kiss him (I know, but wait) and somehow the kissing and the practicing and her reactions are both sexy and …somewhat not sexy as she acknowledges his actor professionalism coming out. It was almost…realist? or at least as realistic as those kinds of hijinks can be I dare say.

Then there’s this whole part of the story where Gracie is an only child responsible for her mother, but also still figuring out what it means to be biracial and cut off from her mother’s native language and past. That part really hit home. Chu even confronts it head on when Sam Yao pulls one of those off hand comments like “I wouldn’t even know you weren’t real Chinese” that he means as a compliment but that hits Gracie harder because of her own journey. Well done.

But mostly Gracie is fun. She’s obsessed with lists, with efficiency, with trying to do what is right, and realizing slowly that she’s cut herself off from almost everyone but her friend Anjali and her mother.

So treat yourself to Toronto’s world of visiting movie stars, snobby racist rich people, and tech folks as you discover it along with Gracie, and cheer on Sam/Gracie who really inspire each other to do the hard things that make each other better.

But also come along for the mental-health issues awareness Gracie brings– she makes it clear to Fangli that the guilt, cover-up, silence around admitting you need help is not helpful nor true. The phrase that sticks in my mind is something along the lines of “should I be mad at myself for not using willpower to cure my own cancer too?”

Definitely will buy whatever Lily Chu churns out next.