Ximan Li’s In a New York Minute tells three stories about three Chinese-American women living wildly disparate lives in New York City, their paths connected by a single pregnancy test. Amy (Amy Chang) is a food critic with an eating disorder caused by a heartbreak she can never speak of openly because having a lesbian daughter would break her mother’s heart. Angel (Yi Liu) aspires to be an actress but is caught up in both a loveless marriage to a wealthy businessman and a raging affair with David (Ludi Lin), a writer who can’t commit to her in a more meaningful way. The youngest of the three is Nina (Celia Au), whose life as an escort helps support her parents but also puts her in harm’s way. She longs to escape that world to start a restaurant with her sweet boyfriend, Ian (Roger Yeh), who does not judge her profession.
The script by Li and cowriter Yilei Zhou gives each of the women their due before connecting them. For the most part, the story works. Each of them deal with a different element of living as adult Chinese-American women in America’s largest city. They run into conflicts in their lives both personal and cultural. Amy is probably the most interesting of the three; her life as a food critic leads to her company attempting a Food Network-style show with her, to which she is not exactly suited. It’s an interesting take on criticism and how critics approach their work. That said, the other two have lives full of drama, tension and occasionally fleeting triumph.
Honestly, perhaps a little too much drama. Their stories are all different, but the scripts feel very similar in tone. Each story starts fairly grounded and then grows into a more melodramatic plot. It’s both fun and a little thin. It’s nice when the three of them meet, but the individual stories themselves aren’t ultimately as satisfying as I would’ve liked them to be.
Additionally, the novel device of a positive pregnancy test makes for an interesting mystery that becomes somewhat convoluted as the object changes hands. In a few cases, the test simply falls out of a character’s pocket and ends up in the right hands. It’s more than a coincidence between characters but less than a purposeful plot by each character. A positive pregnancy test gives each woman a unique use for the item to test their tormentors, but the plot mechanics to get it into their hands ends up more complicated than simply allowing them to use fake tests.
Despite some frustrations, though, Li and Zhou clearly have a lot to say about the lives led by Chinese women in New York City, and some of the unique struggles they face as professionals and people. The film works more often than it doesn’t, thanks to excellent performances by Chang, Liu and Au. Their characters feel emotionally complex even if the script sometimes loses sight of their inner lives. The film also feels written and directed from a place of real love for New York City. “A New York minute” is an idiom that describes a fleeting element of time from a city that never has time to rest. In a New York Minute is a little long in the tooth, but it has a lot to say and ambition to spare.