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‘Happy Cleaners’ review: Familial love and making a life in white America

Intelligent and emotional.

Happy Cleaners is the type of family drama that is commonly found, just not with this kind of family. The story focuses on a second generation Korean American family. The Chois are an immigrant family who have run a local drying cleaning shop for years. The family matriarch watches over a family where the Dad is belittled by his wife, their daughter is dating a man the family does not approve of, and their son just wants to leave. 

As with any of these types of movies, one of the main themes is about love. The Chois do not say “I love you” as much as they should, and Happy Cleaners has a tendency to rely on overly emotional moments. But despite all the arguments and difficulties, there is always a sense that the family will find a way to make everything to work in the end.

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Where Happy Cleaners differs is it adds cultural angst to its story. Gentrification is a serious issue and the generational gap found in the film is profound. Whereas the older members of the family are willing to take disrespect with a nod and smile, their children want to be treated with the same respect as any other person. After all, they are Americans.

This is a very sensitive topic and one that is easy to mishandle. There have been many movies that have fumbled while trying to make a sincere statement about immigrant life in America. Happy Cleaners is able to navigate this by taking a larger look at the entire issue. It is not just about one perspective on how to fit into white America. The film takes a larger look at what an entire family thinks about it. This makes the movie more relatable.

Happy Cleaners is able to come together thanks to its strong writing. The movie does not rely on immigrant family tropes. These are well crafted characters that the audience will understand and in the end, love.

Happy Cleaners releases in theaters February 5 and on Demand February 12

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