Okay, gosh, where do I even begin? Out of all the movies I’ve been given the opportunity to see at SXSW Film Festival is Inbetween Girl and by far my favorite film. It’s like if Emma Stone’s Easy A and Lara Jean into All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (I love those movies) had a baby and named it Inbetween Girl. For Mei Makino, Inbetween Girl is her directorial debut, and I have to say she nailed making this film. It’s a charming, insightful, and quite frank high school drama-comedy with an endearing lead that brings out just the maximum blend of sentimentality. Coming of age films are up there on the scale of favorite cinema genres right below comedy and romance films, so basically, I hit the jackpot of films with Inbetween Girl, and it didn’t disappoint me one bit.
The film follows teenager Angie Chen (Emma Galbraith, feature debut), who attends an Episcopalian school in Galveston, Texas, and expresses herself through her art. Angie’s life appears to be unraveling with her parents’ divorce that she wasn’t expecting despite their constant bickering all the time. Her father is dating another woman who has the perfect daughter that she feels she needs to compete against to be more “perfect” and not feel replaced as her father moves on. That is just the tip of the iceberg that is Angie’s problems; she has a secret affair with her friend/school heartthrob Liam (William Magnuson), ignoring the fact that Liam has a girlfriend (that is not going to end well). I’m calling it right now the audience is going to be obsessed with Magnuson. If only it were going to stream on Netflix (Insert sad face here).
Okay, I’m going to write out and say adolescence is a dumpster fire, and with the bonus of those raging hormones and the social hierarchy that comes with going to high school, it is no easy ride. Adolescence is where teenagers get to learn and understand the universe will constantly throw crap your way, and because of those raging hormones, they’re not prepared to handle it. Angie is not excluded from it, and that is where Makino shines in her directing. Makino perfectly portrays the ups and downs of being a teenager and everything that comes with it, especially Angie’s relationships with her parents and Liam. It was relatable, and I connected with Angie on everything she had to deal with, except I never had any boy trouble. I stayed far away from boys and dating in high school (no regrets here, people). Now that I think about it, Inbetween Girl is also a mix of movies like Booksmart and The Perks of Being A Wallflower, and those are great movies to check out if you haven’t yet. But if you have, you know exactly what kind of movie I am talking about.
Makino opts for an innovative framing technique for the film, letting Angie explore the film’s events with her future self through a series of videotapes. Not only does this prove to be an impressive way for Galbraith to embrace and showcase her talents, but despite that creative idea for directing this film, it still exudes a sheer authenticity that contributes to the core of the film. The dialogue is razor-sharp, and the only way a conversation can be razor-sharp is if someone on the crew had that experience. There is no way to write a script on point and crisp with original stories. How many movies can I watch with cheesy dull dialogue without banging my head on the wall predicting what will happen next? I can tell you right now; I won’t last long in the movie. There is one scene in the film when Angie goes over to Sheryl’s house (Emily Garrett, Liam’s girlfriend) to work on a school project, and Sheryl’s mom asks her where she was born here, and I cringed hard, but that is the type of dialogue that I look for in a movie. Makino doesn’t shy away or hide from tough topics; she makes it a point. There is also a scene in the film where Angie explores in her head which of her male classmates would be like in bed, and that is the dialogue that I wished would be in more movies. It is brutally honest and frankly the funniest dialogue that no one would have expected from the film’s lead. I also enjoyed how that scene was also supplemented with her drawings depicting her thoughts on sex. Chief’s kiss.
I’m just going to go right out and say love triangles are overrated. There I said it (please, not the face). Inbetween Girl remains creative whole avoiding the trope’s overused elements that make it fresh. Angie does not seek to climb the popularity ladder in hopes of becoming popular, or is there a BFF betrayal side story. Angie is mature because she understands that Liam isn’t going to be her knight and shining armor. Makino identifies her protagonist’s development as a way from the love interest, utilizing Angie’s art to express what conversations cannot. Makino has an exceptionally keen eye and ear for the emotional rollercoaster that is Inbetween Girl or teenage life in general.
Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars
Understanding that everybody has different limits, ways of handling life and that forgiving is actually way more complex than just saying “I’m sorry” or “it’s cool” or “it’s okay” is a big part of the real-life coming of age phase in life. The lesson, however, is missing from many teen movies, notably those that make a superficial effort to demonstrate that a girl can do anything she wants with just a little bit of that pizzazz.
Makino manages to uplift the young women she writes about without resorting to saccharine girl boss optimism that is done time after time. If you love original writing and directing and, of course, like comedy, drama, and romance, definitely please go with this movie. If not, that is okay because anybody can enjoy and appreciate Inbetween Girl. After all, I can guarantee that someone needs to see this movie to know that no one has their crap together, including the grown-ups, and I mean especially those grown-ups.