Inbetween Girl, a very affecting South by Southwest debut from writer/director Mei Makino, is another successful coming-of-age indie film, the kind that is so often seen at SXSW and other festivals like it.
It someone resembles Netflix’s recently concluded trilogy of To All the Boys… movies, telling the story of an Asian-American teenaged female protagonist, with one white parent. The difference is, this film isn’t nearly as chaste. Nevertheless, I could absolutely see it going to Netflix and being huge.
The film, which premiered in the Visions section at the 2021 South by Southwest Film Festival, stars Emma Galbraith as Angie Chen, a teenager and talented artist who attends a fancy high school where she doesn’t really fit in. She tries to alleviate the boredom by making videos that she’s sending to her future self.
Soon, Angie is confronted with two major crises: Her parents suddenly get divorced, with her father immediately taking up with another woman.
Meanwhile, Angie begins her own illicit relationship with local bad boy Liam (William Magnuson), which begins when he, apropos of nothing, climbs into her bedroom one day and immediately has sex with her- a trope that also found its way into the recent Netflix show Ginny & Georgia.
Complicating matters is that Liam has a girlfriend, rich queen bee Sheryl (Emilly Garrett)- and things are complicated even further when Angie and Sheryl become unlikely friends.
This sounds like something of a slight plot and the stuff of teen movie cliche. But first-time director Makino handles it deftly, with witty dialogue, a brisk pace, and fine performances from a company of unheralded actors.
Galbraith is a revelation here, playing all of the notes of this character, from the depression to the starry love to the heartbreak, while Magnuson is also very good as the charming snake. It also helps that the script doesn’t judge her in any way, and trusts the audience enough to know they won’t either.
The film also keeps introducing characters, from the blond influencer girlfriend to the father’s girlfriend’s daughter, who are both given much more depth than it appeared they’d have at first. The film also makes fine use of locations in Galveston, Tex. (the director is herself a Texas native.)
South by Southwest this year has been lacking in films that are especially transcendent, but Inbetween Girl is one of those that comes closest- just an unheralded gem all around.