Inbetween Girl is a new SXSW coming-of-age dramedy that proves there’s plenty of life left in the subgenre. Taking a page from similar romantic comedies like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, and E4’s My Mad Fat Diary, the film gives us a cute couple worth swooning over, with Liam and Angie. Subversion of tropes built into the movie’s DNA is smart, and mostly successful. Hilarious and personal sketches embolden biracial main character Angie’s emotions at all times. This seems like a sleeper hit ready-made for the Netflix crowd.
Young artist Angie (Emma Galbraith) is trying to find herself in the aftermath of her parents’ not-so-surprising divorce. Hunky Liam (William Magnuson) is a welcome distraction—he might have an Insta-famous girlfriend (Emily Garrett), but he gives Angie rides home from soccer practice. Liam is almost mythical to Angie, right up until their casual flirtation evolves into something sexier. This new relationship has a ripple effect on everything Angie holds dear, placing her at an emotional crossroads. This extends to her parents and her uncertainty about the future.
Similar to SXSW’s other romantic-comedy, Ninjababy, Inbetween Girl has a distinct flavor thanks to cutesy sketches that convey Angie’s emotions. These comics aren’t as animated as the ones in Ninjababy, but they are used just as effectively. A scene where Angie fantasizes about hooking up with various guys in the lunchroom is juxtaposed with funny sketches of their trysts. The style is very Napoleon Dynamite at times, and it’s an excellent tactic that transports us into Angie’s headspace. In addition to comics, we explore Angie’s relationship with her Chinese heritage. Actress Emma Galbraith heavily influenced the script’s exploration of this element, and you see it fully reflected in the authenticity of her performance. The biracial element is as essential to her identity and personality as the boyfriend drama—it’s a very refreshing addition to the story that fits the movie like a glove.
Inbetween Girl takes an approach to the actual relationship between the two lead characters that will feel familiar to fans of the rom-com genre. Liam, though well outside Angie’s self-appointed social status, does not tower over her like some unattainable, distant hottie. He’s vulnerable around Angie, with actor William Magnuson imbuing Liam with his own charisma. The conversations between Liam and Angie early on set up the roots of their complicated friendship. Dialogue is as natural as the performances: lines like “the line of boys who come through my window are just endless” commit to a snappy humor.
A ‘first time’ sequence is played with extreme awkwardness and a total cringe angle that is messy and realistic. Angie notes that movies don’t reflect real life loss of virginity—Inbetween Girl gets a gold star for pointing out this trope in a meta way, then in saying ‘not in my movie!’ The sex scene in question (when it finally occurs) plays out noisily against a black screen, relying on sound design alone, and imagination, to form itself. This keeps the sequences interesting, almost taking the approach to respect the privacy of the duo. Writer/director Mei Makino carves out her own niche by avoiding genre cliche in a unique way.
Filmed in only 15 days, Inbetween Girl is an exciting and poignant first feature for Makino. Teen coming-of-age is nothing new, yet there’s a tender freshness in Angie’s personal journey, rich with culture and exploding with originality. The movie doesn’t end in a way I’d classify as satisfying. I understand Makino’s vision, and I realize that my personal desires on the direction of the narrative simply weren’t reflected in the story. I still loved the time I got to spend with Angie and Liam, and Angie’s blended family. If Netflix scoops this up and sequelizes the series, I can see potential for more films with these great characters. Inbetween Girl debuted as part of the entirely virtual SXSW Film Festival.