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by Susan Royal

  The Mao Game
The Mao Game.
Joshua Miller must be the first person to write, direct, produce and star in a film adaptation of his own novel. That he did this at the age of 23 is particularly noteworthy. His film, The Mao Game, from his highly acclaimed book of the same name, was one of the most anticipated and well-attended films at the AFI Film Fest. (One of its stars, Piper Laurie, had previously captured two awards for her performance in the film at the Seattle Film Fest.)

A pre-film dinner party at Les Deux Cafe in Hollywood was jammed. Spotted there were Kirstie Alley (who stars in the film), Tobey Maguire, Jenna Elfman, Sarah Gilbert, Karen Black, Samantha Mathis, Doris Roberts and Joshua Leonard (of The Blair Witch Project).

The Mao Game is a semi-autobiographical story of growing up in a dysfunctional Hollywood family. Miller is the son of actor and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jason Miller and actress/Playmate of the Month Susan Bernard, is half brother to actor Jason Patric and grandson of Bruno Bernard, a.k.a. Bernard of Hollywood, the famous celebrity photographer of the 40s and 50s.

The title derives from a card game in which the dealer sets secret rules which he may change at will. Players can only hope to learn them as the game progresses. The film, which begins with the custody of Millerâs character being determined by a game of Mao, explores the complex relationship of a son (played by Miller), mother (Kirstie Alley) and grandmother (Piper Laurie).

Miller contends that, although the story is dark, itâs not a tragedy. "The Mao Game is about people who break the rules. Their actions come back to haunt them, have consequences, and sometimes liberate them. Thatâs been my journey."

With moving performances from Joshua Miller, Kirstie Alley and Piper Laurie, The Mao Game is what resonates most from the recent AFI Film Fest.

For a related story on the AFI Fest, click here.

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