In her feature film debut, which premiered at this year’s virtual SXSW Film Festival, writer and director Mei Makino presents a coming-of-age story that depicts the realities of one’s teenage years and growing up. Inbetween Girl captures the struggles of navigating new relationships and finding one’s identity in an honest and heartwarming way.
Angie Chen (Emma Galbraith) is a half-Chinese and half-white student at an Episcopalian high school in Galveston, Texas. As she puts together a time capsule for the future, she records video messages talking to her future self about her life, which, at the moment, is filled with insecurity and confusion. On top of trying to adapt to her parents’ divorce and her struggles with her racial identity, Angie begins a secret tryst with popular boy Liam (William Magnuson), who is dissatisfied in his relationship with his seemingly perfect influencer girlfriend Sheryl (Emily Garrett).
Like many other films about teenage girls, Inbetween Girl portrays young love, as Angie experiences many firsts with Liam while their relationship develops. However, the film also depicts the realities of teenage relationships, showing that they aren’t always perfect and clear-cut as we expect them to be. In one particular scene, as Angie grows closer to Liam, she wonders whether her feelings for him are actually love or not since she has never experienced romantic love before. There is an honesty in showing Angie’s confusion about her relationship.
While this relationship is a main source of conflict in the film for both Angie and Sheryl, Liam does not overshadow them. Angie and Sheryl have dimensionality to their character, and their worth is not defined solely by their relationship to Liam. We are able to see them outside of their relationship with him and learn more about their personalities, home lives and struggles.
Angie initially feels inferior to Sheryl. Sheryl seems to have it all: beauty, popularity and lots of friends. Angie soon learns that Sheryl is cheerful and friendly and that they have a lot more in common than Angie thought. Rather than being the stereotypical popular girl that is often used in high school films to solely look pretty and create drama, Sheryl defies the preconceived notions about herself.
Inbetween Girl also delves into Angie’s relationships with her parents and the changes that come after their divorce. Her mother Veronica (Liz Waters) spends a lot of time at work, while her father Fai (KaiChow Lau) begins dating a Chinese woman named Min (ShanShan Jin). Angie feels a disconnect from her father. She is not able to see him as often, and when she does, he is more in tune with Chinese culture with Min than he was around her and her white mother. Angie has a particularly difficult time coming to terms with the addition of Min’s daughter Fang (Thanh Phuong Bui) to her father’s life. Fang seems to be perfect in Angie’s eyes; she is a good student, has a plan for her future and is more connected to Chinese culture than Angie is.
The film illustrates Angie’s struggle not only to accept Min and Fang into her life but to also feel a sense of belonging as a biracial person. She is treated as “other” by white people like Sheryl’s mother, who expresses a weird fascination with the fact that Angie is Asian, while also feeling isolated from Min and Fang for not being able to speak or understand Mandarin.
The use of Angie’s video messages throughout the film as the lens to tell her story gives us a more intimate look into her life. Although she can be reserved around other characters, Angie is honest and unfiltered as she talks about her feelings and struggles to her future self. Her time capsule beautifully captures the hopes of many adolescents when they feel lost—that they will be in a better place in the future when they look back on these experiences.
Makino demonstrates a deep understanding of the conflicts and emotions that come with adolescence through Angie’s story. The plot unfolds organically, as it takes time for Angie to grow from her experiences and understand the conflicts that she faces. Angie makes mistakes and is able to learn from them, but she is also forced to face the consequences of her actions. She is a notable protagonist due in part to her relatability and character development throughout the film.
Inbetween Girl distinguishes itself in its refreshingly true-to-life depiction of teenage girlhood, solidifying itself as a contender in the beloved coming-of-age genre.