Written by: Mei Makino
Starring: Emma Galbraith, William Magnuson, Emily Garrett, Liz Waters, KaiChow Lau
Following specific formulas in particular genres creates a level of familiarity with knowing what to expect from the story overall. It can also be a bit restricting in the level of creativity possible if relying too much on it. Inbetween Girl does this with the teenage coming-of-age model but the level of genuine energy and deftness through its storytelling creates a special and distinct way of experiencing the tumultuous years of the protagonist’s life.
With her parents suddenly getting a divorce, young teenager Angie (Emma Galbraith) gets involved with her classmate sexually knowing he’s in a relationship with another girl. As their relationship continues in secret, Angie must make some big decisions about who she wants to be and how the relationship will progress.
As a whole, Inbetween Girl does not set out to be groundbreaking in its portrayal of its story. It provides a teenager dealing with turmoil at home and how it then seeps into her life at school and the relationships she has with their peers. Fairly standard but something special remains when thinking about the impact this film has. It comes not from the narrative as a whole, but rather the playful way in which the script brings the story to life and the wonderfully insightful performance by the lead actor. This film certainly has its formulaic moments, but rarely does it get told from the perspective of someone like Angie and this level of freshness on top of everything else this film has going for it makes for such an engaging viewing experience.
From the very start, Angie presents herself as quite the character to follow throughout this narrative seeing as she does not represent the typical character fixated on in coming of age tales. Part of it comes from these stories focusing on white perspectives, Angie’s perception of herself in a cultural sense as well as the typical teenage drama she has wrapped herself in brings such a refreshing look to how these stories can look. In a grander sense, the most integral feature of what makes this narrative stand out comes from the authenticity found in both the script and performances. Nothing in the feature feels overdone for the sake of creating drama. Trust me, being a teenager with the hormones they have to handle gives enough for our protagonist to worry about without adding cinematic troubles existing outside of reality.
Angie’s issues stem not only from her relationship with her friend, turned sexual partner in Liam (William Magnuson) but then how it turns out when she interacts with his girlfriend, Sheryl (Emily Garrett). It moves away from being more so about a forbidden romance but a tale about how teenagers can hurt each other in devastating ways but still learn from it. This serves as probably one of the greatest lessons a teenager could learn with the lowest possible stakes of it being a high school relationship. None of these kids will handle their emotional and sexual explorations in the cleanest of ways but the way the film manages Angie’s grave mistakes and the way she needs to reconcile them adds a level of maturity to the script and one allowing for intriguing exploration.
Much like many of my favorite films out of SXSW this year, the greatness of the film comes from the wonderful collaboration between the writer/director and the main star with this film being no different. Mei Makino establishes and presents the story in such an engaging manner in demonstrating what makes Angie so different from typical teens captured in cinematic projects. She lets the raw honesty of this story blend in crafting a character that would actually exist in the real world. Makino’s story idea would not work without the strong performance given by Emma Galbraith. Encapsulating the weirdness of her character without her becoming otherworldly, the work she does as Angie helps create such an endearing protagonist to follow through this messy time in her life. From the half-smiles, and sighs of disbelief, she continually helps add to what makes this such a breath of fresh air from a narrative perspective.
While feeling standard in moments, the distinct comedy and emotionally resonant sequences this film has to offer feel incredibly real. At times, this can be the greatest compliment a narrative can receive. It wants to give off an authentic experience for this young teenager and part of that comes from messing up to the degree where others get hurt. All comes part of the learning process, which comes naturally as part of the teenage experience. Inbetween Girl truly gets this sentiment and in the process creates such an easily loveable character to follow as her flaws become her most endearing qualities. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to share in this learning experience for Angie and hopefully, others will also be able to unearth this little gem.