Inbetween Girl Comes Home for the Austin Asian American Film Festival
Austin-Made dramedy brings teenage dreams and Sorkin rhythms to the drive-in
Inbetween Girl director Mei Makino watched through a long list of warm and colorful films while working on her debut feature, a coming-of-age film about a teenager's love affairs in the wake of her parents' divorce. Diary of a Teenage Girl, Clueless, and ... The Social Network? Steve Jobs? "I know it's not what you'd expect," she said. "But I just think those scripts are so tightly written! I was like, 'Yeah! Come on, Sorkin!'"
And it shows: Inbetween Girl demonstrates reverence for a multitude of filmic lineages. Sixteen-year-old Angie Chen makes sense of her life by drawing, and a Jacques Demy aesthetic is alive and well in her color palettes. And while seeing teenagers speak like Aaron Sorkin characters would have verged on frightening, that influence still feels palpable in some of the dialogue. As Angie, Emma Galbraith moves from wise deadpan to explosive anger and back again in seconds.
That tonal balance has proven effective as Makino makes her way through the festival circuit. Inbetween Girl took the Visions Audience Award when it premiered at SXSW 2021, then went on to win Best Narrative Feature at the Center for Asian American Media Festival in May. Soon, the film will have its first public screening, a drive-in as the Austin Asian American Film Festival's centerpiece event on June 11.
These successes are a testament to the authenticity and room for growth Makino allowed herself in the writing process. "I always wanted [Angie] to be a mixed character. But I still didn't know what that mixed identity meant to me," she said. "I'm half-Japanese and half-white, and I didn't grow up around a lot of Japanese people. The only Japanese person I knew was my dad, and it's hard to shape your identity around one person."
And then she met Galbraith. "Emma's half-Chinese and half-white, so obviously there's a difference there. But still, so much common ground. We don't fit neatly into one box and people don't know how to talk to us all the time. Talking to Emma, she's had different experiences, but we just related on that a lot." Galbraith was first brought on as Makino was rushing to put together a proof-of-concept video for an Austin Film Society grant application, but after she finished the video (and was ultimately awarded the grant) Makino found she had no desire to recast the role. Galbraith's outspokenness about her politics and identity inspired Makino as she finished the screenplay, and she credits Galbraith for shaping who Angie eventually came to be: "She just brought so much personality and tenacity and bravery to Angie's character. I'm really, really thankful that I found her."
The production of Inbetween Girl was community-driven along every step of the way. A large portion of the crew members are Makino's old classmates from film school at UT-Austin, and she still doesn't know how she would have finished the film if her parents and neighbors hadn't hosted the team as they shot in Galveston. Now, she hopes that that community spirit can carry over to the people who watch it. "In Austin, I have had super awesome meetings on power and privilege. I've learned a lot about race and socioeconomic dynamics here, and why I am the way I am," Makino said. "In Galveston, I didn't have that education. Realistically, a lot of kids don't. They're figuring out who they are on their own."
To the inbetween kids of the greater Austin area: Consider taking your shiny new licenses out for a spin to the drive-in theatre. You may find that Makino's film makes you feel less alone.
Austin Asian American Film Festival Centerpiece Drive-In Screening, June 11, 7:30pm, Pioneer Farms.
Virtual access, June 11-13. Tickets and info at aaafilmfest.org.