The road to adulthood is messy, imperfect, and unkind. Media depictions of adolescence tend to rule these realities out, or otherwise forgoes depicting representation of this demographic at all. But the truth is, sanitizing the experience does not hide the mistakes and many questions that will inevitably be made along the way.
Among many of the other grand achievements accomplished with the Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once, for instance, is its centering on an older, Asian woman: that these issues simply do not go away as we grow old, and that our struggles with self-doubt and insecurities will always remain pervasive in some way and it is valid to experience them. If stories were always made to herald perfect protagonists, it is disempowering to our suspension of disbelief to be able to see ourselves in these stories.
In Inbetween Girl, Angie Chen (Emma Galbraith) is certainly an imperfect teenager as any teenager can be. Nearing the end of her high school experience while having to start thinking about college, she finds herself pressured into finally admitting she has feelings for one of her friends, Liam (William Magnuson). However, Liam has already been dating Sheryl (Emily Garett), and the two’s popularity in the class synthesizes their reputation as a picture-perfect couple.
Meanwhile, Angie is also still grappling with the fallout from her parents’ recent divorce. She longs for a deeper connection with her Chinese heritage through her father Fai (KaiChow Lau) while she feels like there is a wall built between her and her mother Veronica (Liz Waters).
The culmination of these tense feelings end up spilling out, and Angie and Liam begin to open up these vulnerabilities together. As a result, they end up developing a sexual relationship, despite the fact that Liam is still dating Sheryl on the surface. In addition, Fai is beginning to settle in with new love and a new family, putting Angie at unease that her father is abandoning her and further fueling her insecurities over her racial identity. While reluctant to admit her participation in something wrong, Angie is faced with coming to terms with her feelings and the frustrations bubbling up inside of her upon slowly realizing how it is affecting other people.
Inbetween Girl accurately depicts the woes of teenagedom through a Generation Z lens, while still grounded in its exploration of themes universal to all generations. In addition, Inbetween Girl fully tackles issues pervasive to many youth members of a diaspora, especially of Asian Americans and those who identify as mixed Asian. On top of the natural chemistry and believability of the main cast’s acting and the naturalness of the film’s script, Inbetween Girl successfully conveys the awkwardness of blossoming love, sexuality, and diasporic issues within an emotionally resonating package.
The art direction of the film takes a mixed media take in depicting the complication of these feelings coalescing together: Angie is an artist, and parts of the film are intertwined through analog footage, photography, and drawings, accompanied by self-deprecating humor she addresses directly towards the viewer. This assorted material supplements a subplot to the film in which Angie is developing a time capsule. It all coincides with her journey of processing pain and eventually learning to accept difficult memories — all while also learning to understand that she is not the only one in the world going through similar hardships.
The film’s title, Inbetween Girl, also carries multiple meanings. On immediate glance it can immediately refer to Angie herself, pointing towards her interracial identity as a child of parents of two different ethnic identities. But in the context of the film’s events the title ends up unfurling into meaning so much more. Angie is thrown between Liam and his girlfriend. Angie is in between the cusp of her adolescence into adulthood. All on top of this, Angie is being torn between her two parents and the new, distinct lives they decided to create upon their separation. Angie is in between multiple worlds, and it is through finding herself at the crossroads of adolescent awakening that she has to figure out how to find compromise across all of them.
At some point in the film, Veronica opens up to Angie about the “footnotes” in her own life, sharing with her daughter anecdotes about her own past, troubled relationships that have since only remained as memories. Angie realizes her mother is able to relate to her in ways she was unable to see before, and that this tumultuous hurdle she is going through can be overcome. Although it is a lesson pointed towards its young protagonist specifically, Inbetween Girl reminds us that we can make mistakes.
Sometimes those mistakes can be resolved, but sometimes the resolution is not one we would want, even though it may be for the best. People come in and out of our lives for different reasons, and with heartbreak and lost friendships there is more room for new relationships and other pathways. No matter your age, Inbetween Girl shows that taking the steps forward sometimes means accepting and embracing the mess you made in order to move on.