Review: ‘Inbetween Girl’ handles teenage girlhood with empathy and honesty
The story of 16-year-old artist Angie Chen, aided by the vulnerable and brave performance of Emma Galbraith, has all the marks of a teen movie we’ve seen before: angst, parents who just don’t understand, messy romance. However, its frank depiction of teen sexuality and emotions and its focus on an Asian American protagonist make this feel fresh. Inbetween Girl, written and directed by Mei Makino is a movie that’s unafraid to showcase the life of a teenage girl with an honest, empathetic eye.
Angie has a crush on Liam (William Magnuson), her soccer teammate and the most popular guy at her Episcopalian private school. She gets rides home from him after practice, and while they have classic high school chemistry (big on the banter, lots of teasing glances exchanged) Liam is dating Sheryl White (Emily Garrett), the most popular girl at their high school and an influencer. Their relationship seems perfect, and yet Liam mentions that they’re having trouble since Sheryl is “too Catholic.” Later, when Liam decides to visit Angie by coming through her bedroom window one night, we can all see what’s coming, the two begin to hook-up secretly.
These hook-up sessions become an escape for Angie as she’s dealing with her parents’ divorce. Her white mom and Chinese dad have always fought, as Angie describes it: “Fighting was their love language before I knew what love languages were.” This time though, it looks like they are separating for good. This split leaves Angie with her mom at her house, and her dad in a new apartment, with a new, seemingly perfect Chinese family. Understandably, these changes rock Angie’s world, causing her to reflect on her place as a daughter and biracial person on top of the challenges of high school. She’s going through a lot, and even though Liam is an “asshole” (Angie’s words), he’s her “asshole” and the space they create together feels like steady ground in a world that’s crumbling around her. This is all made even more complicated when Sheryl and Angie get paired up as partners on an English project and it turns out that Sheryl might be more human than her influencer persona lets on.
Inbetween Girl is a love letter to being a teenage mess and the growth that can come from it. Its respect and empathy for its teenage girl characters bring some of the movie’s greatest moments. When it comes to the hook-up scenes, there’s a great deal of respect, humor, and empathy as well, depicting teenage insecurity about first times, desire, and figuring out what feels good with a relatable sensibility. Additionally, Angie’s interactions with her parents feel honest and moving, and while they are divorced, they seem to be good co-parents with neither painted as a straight-up villain.
Most remarkably, the movie takes great care to showcase Angie’s struggle with her identity in an empathetic way. We hear her talk about visiting China as a small girl, reflecting on her long-ago visit and feelings of inadequacy around her dad’s new family as she draws a street scene from that visit. We see Angie confronted by Sheryl’s nightmare of a mom with the classic, racist question “Where are you from?” when she goes over for the first time. We understand that navigating the world as a teenage girl with divorced parents is hard enough – but doing so as a biracial one has a whole other set of challenges.
Angie’s story resonates, because as specific as it is, it is universal, too. Anyone who’s been a teenager can testify to all of the emotions Angie goes through. With great warmth, empathy, and delightful use of drawings and digital video clips, Inbetween Girl creates a coming-of-age story that anyone can relate to but with a refreshing perspective.
Writer/director Mei Makano's coming-of-age story understands the messiness of being a teen girl.