As the 13-year-old Chengxi (Joseph Huang) relates his circumstances in the Netflix original “Dear Ex,” his doodles animate the screen, obscuring and enhancing the live-action imagery beneath. The film’s twee qualities shouldn’t be taken for fatuousness, however. It is a remarkably affecting and cogent picture.
Following the death of his father (Spark Chen), Chengxi finds himself caught between his mother, Sanlian (Hsieh Ying-hsuan), and Jay (Roy Chiu), a man for whom his father left his family. Chengxi has been written out of his late father’s insurance policy, and all of the money will now go to Jay — as soon as Sanlian signs off on it. Chengxi copes with the resulting fight by moving in with Jay (to the displeasure of both adults), drawn to the man’s mercurial nature and relationship with his father.
As the film goes on, the story fractures, traveling back and forth in time as the three characters struggle to reach a point of conciliation. The stereotypes that Sanlian and Jay seem to embody — shrew and rogue — peel away, leaving only the tenderness and the sense of betrayal both of them still feel toward the man they loved.
Roles switch and shift, as do the characters’ feelings for one another. At points, the film threatens to tip over into melodrama, but the directors Mag Hsu and Hsu Chih-yen always right the ship, balancing oversaturated flashbacks with a nuanced portrait of love that endures both trials and time.