Angie Chen (Emma Galbraith) is an artist with teenage angst. Her crush is the male half of a power couple: Liam (William Magnuson), the most popular boy at school and social media influencer Sheryl White (Emily Garrett). Liam finds time to drive Angie home after school and seems to have friend-zoned her. To make matters worse, Angie’s parents have parted ways and, Angie feels isolated. Living with her mother Veronica, Angie feels, “It’s best that we live in separate bubbles.”
Yet there’s a bubble she’d like to burst. She visited China when she was ten, but isn’t really in touch with her Chinese ancestry. Angie angrily discovered that her father’s Chinese side has some forward with his new girlfriend, Min (ShanShan Jin) and Min’s daughter, Stanford-bound Fang (Thanh Phuong Bui).
When she’s with this threesome, she can’t see any beauty in live in Galveston. Viewing the beaches, she says, “I don’t find brown water aesthetically pleasing.” In truth, she doesn’t find much pleasing beyond her crush Liam and she’s not trying to be particularly girly to attract him.
Liam is so popular, the students part like the Red Sea for Moses when he walks the hallways and he seems genuinely concerned about Angie. When he takes Angie home, he warns, “I’m not leaving until I see you safely inside that house. You know, I’ve seen Dateline.”
One night, when Liam enters her bedroom through her window, uninvited, Angie is willing to settle for what she can get. Liam is prepared; he has a condom that he’s stolen from his brother. Complaining that his girlfriend Sheryl is “too Catholic,” he finds Angie very accommodating, willing to keep things on the down-low. This relationship is so low, that not even Angie’s best friend Rebecca knows about it and Liam isn’t the kind of guy who enters through the front door and meets the parents. Liam is so worried about Sheryl’s fragile emotional state and explains, “You are like a sturdy old battleship and she’s like a flimsy sailboat.” Is that a compliment either way?
At first, Angie gets a thrill from her secret trysts. She feels empowered and imagines what sex would be like with every boy she knows. The sexual situations are tastefully depicted in Angie’s drawings (actually drawn by Larissa Akhmetova). There’s a hint of diverging interests between Liam and Angie just before a class Shakespeare project pairs Angie with Sheryl and the triangle becomes more complicated. While Angie realizes that Liam is an “asshole,” but “he’s my asshole,” at least on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. But is he really?
Sure the forbidden romance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has its tragic beautiful, but remember, even at a tender age, Juliet made sure that Romeo was more serious than the inconstant and fickle moon. Romeo did come through the front door before he tried the balcony. They were married and they died as man and wife.
Writer/director Mei Makino is hapa (half-Japanese) and she original meant to cast a Black Latina until she met Emma Galbraith. According to a Hollywood Reporter article, because Makino knew little about Chinese culture, Makino consulted with a Galveston friend, Zhelun Chen, who moved from China to Galveston. The awkward fumble toward intimacy between Galbraith and Magnuson seems authentic and as the golden girl, Garrett has depth. Makino’s script doesn’t diss any of the girls and even Liam isn’t villainized. It should as no surprise that in the end, sometimes mothers can give good advice and it is better to be seen than be the unseen inbetween girl for some asshole.
“Inbetween Girl” made its world premiere at SXSW Online 2021. Running time is 89 minutes and the film is not yet rated.