Friday, May 6, 2022

Reviews: AAPI Heritage Month Begins With Two Promising Asian Female-Directed Indie Films: “Inbetween Girl” and “In a New York Minute”

Inbetween Girl (c) Utopia

Film Review: Inbetween Girl 
On-Demand Streaming 

For the last couple of years there has been an explosion of high school-themed content in film and TV. The glut has made the stories of teen angst and joy almost predictable and pedestrian. Only when a filmmaker presents the subject in a unique and honest way does their project rise about the coming-of-age din. First time director Mei Makino does indeed attack this material from a different direction, and the result, while not entirely successful, does feel fresh. Makino’s film shares an honesty with the recent Netflix series, “Heartstopper” (one of the best teen dramas ever) and the arty uniqueness of “The Mitchells vs. the Machine” (sans killer robots). Angie (a wonderfully moody Emma Galbraith) is the resident St. Michael’s High outsider, a budding artist whose parents are not having an amicable divorce. She lives with her white, overworked mother while her Chinese father starts to date a Chinese woman with a daughter, Fang (Thanh Bui), Angie’s age. The main drama in her life is her soccer teammate Liam (William Magnuson), the most popular boy in school, who starts to flirt with her even though he is dating up-and-coming influencer Sheryl (Emily Garrett). Makino’s script oscillates between overly familiar teen dialogue to refreshingly original takes on female friendships, especially the one between Angie and Sheryl, which is funny and unpredictable as it goes along its formulaic story routes. There’re also some occasional references to race as both a good thing (cultural and culinary) and a hurdle for well-meaning white people (the setting is in Galveston but doesn’t feel very Texan). Also, Angie’s artwork made by local illustrator Larissa Akhmetova, with its goofy cartoon aesthetic, is a big plus. The film premiered at SXSW this year and won the Visions Award for risk-taking filmmaking. I’ll co-sign that. 

In a New York Minute (c) Gravitas Ventures

Film Review: In a New York Minute 
On-Demand Streaming 

“In a New York Minute” shares a lot of DNA with Krzysztof Kieslowski’s seminal work, “The Three Colors Trilogy,” in which each of the three films focuses on one woman and ties it all together at the end of the last film. The stories here are condensed into one film, in a sort of anthology way. The connection between the three Chinese American women, all living in the titular city, is the most inventive part of this interesting, if not wholly successful, triptych. Amy (Amy Chang) is a successful food writer, who after a recent breakup is, ironically, unable to eat. She is also under pressure from her immigrant mother to get married and start a family as well as being persued romantically by annoying co-worker (Jae Shin). Angel (Yu Liu), once a big star in China who is now trying to pursue an acting career in New York, is in a comfortable if loveless marriage with her white husband (Erik Lochtefeld), while having an affair with a fellow Chinese ex-pat (Ludi Lin). Nina (Celia Au, so good in a recent “Awkwafina is Nora from Queens” episode) is a call-girl working at a karaoke bar who is trying to get enough money to pay back her father for sponsoring her immigration from China before hopefully getting a new start opening a restaurant with her boyfriend (Roger Yeh). While each of the stories are compelling on their own, and the actress at the center of each conveys the hopelessness of her situation, director Ximan Li doesn’t vary the tone of their stories the way Kieslowski does, so the overall mood is a bit monotonous in a consistently intense and mostly humorless way. Also, most of the men, be they lover or family member, are uniformly one-dimensional and unlikeable. Based on a short story by Yi Nan, the film is more successful depicting how these women’s lives intersect, whether in a small way during a cigarette break or in a larger way involving, of all things, a home pregnancy test. There is also an all-too-quick cameo by legendary Chinese actress Cheng Pei Pei as Amy’s mother, which was a welcome surprise. There is a lot to admire in this well-polished indie, which was making the rounds at film festivals before the pandemic and is now available to rent on demand. I look forward to what’s next for Ximan Li.

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