American immigrant stories aren’t usually about failure, but even though Hanoi-based exchange student Mai Nguyen isn’t technically an immigrant, her time in the U.S. becomes a telling tale of both personal drive and disappointment in Marlo Poras’ docu, “Mai’s America.” Employing Mai’s English-lingo v.o. narration, and thus making her Poras’ storytelling partner, pic observes the lighthearted, curious young woman adapting to life in Mississippi, New Orleans and, later, Michigan. Poras fluidly paces her account of Mai’s adventure, and adopts the classic documentarian spirit of filming what you find. Early August PBS airing awaits, and extensive international tube broadcasts are docu’s proper future.
Even though she’s the bright daughter of a Hanoi hotelier (dad) and teacher (mom), their money can only carry Mai so far as she travels to the Deep South for her senior high school year, where she finds a slightly happier home with a black couple than with a depressingly unemployed white family. Mai seems to easily make friends (her best pal, Chris, proves deeply confused about his sexuality) but, adaptable as she is, after a disappointing stint at Tulane U., she eventually feels too alienated in the States.