SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Most of the audience for writer/director Mei Makino’s debut feature Inbetween Girl will see the film for what it is: a frank, charming, and insightful high school dramedy with an exceedingly sympathetic protagonist and just the right amount of sentimentality.
Undoubtedly, though, there is someone out there – in fact, maybe a lot of someones – who are going to see it as so, so much more.
The story of mixed-race, romantically confused, artistically gifted high schooler Angie Chen (Emma Galbraith, also making her feature debut) is bound to strike such a chord with teenage viewers who fit into any one or more of those categories that they’ll feel like the film was made just for them. Being young and insecure, maybe they’ll want to secret it away, returning to it like a cinematic security blanket whenever the herculean effort of growing into adulthood inevitably gets complicated or overwhelming. Perhaps they’ll feel compelled to share and talk about it and turn it into a massive independent success. “That’s me on up screen,” they’ll say, “and to get this movie is to get me.” Doesn’t everyone deserve a film like that?
“The story of mixed-race, romantically confused, artistically gifted high schooler Angie Chen…”
At any rate, Inbetween Girl is as engaging and heartfelt a coming-of-age story as has made it to the screen in some time. Makino navigates the familiar genre with grace, honesty, and energy. Her take on it is accessible and relatable rather than indie-film twee, and her characterizations have a ring of truth rather than one of creative contrivance. Not to slight the John Hughes films that helped previous generations get through the ups-and-downs of high school, but this film has a lighter touch dramatically and a self-awareness about stereotypes that seems much better calibrated for modern viewers.
At the center of it all is Angie, a wry and complex young woman who excels at drawing but is significantly less adept when it comes to confidence and social interaction. A crisis soon compounds her typical teenage uncertainties. Her mom (Liz Waters), a workaholic white lawyer, and her dad (KaiChow Lau), an idealistic Chinese-American scientist, have decided to get a divorce, effective immediately.
This all happens right around the same time that Angie is making an ineffectual attempt to brush off her unrequited feelings for Liam (William Magnuson), the most popular guy at her conservative and cliquey Catholic school. Cocky, handsome, and – as Angie fully acknowledges – a bit of a jackass, Liam drives Angie home from soccer practice and offhandedly flirts with her every afternoon, but he’s off-limits because he runs in different social circles and is dating Sheryl (Emily Garrett), an Instagram model and his logical equal in the school’s social hierarchy.
But, then, something unexpected happens: Liam shows up at Angie’s bedroom window one night when her mom’s away, they sleep together, and before long, this becomes a regular thing – all, of course, behind Sheryl’s back.
"…as engaging and heartfelt a coming-of-age story as has made it to the screen in some time."