High school drama done right in this Texas indie

The depiction of teenagers, in particular teenage girls, has often been problematic on screens both big and small. Problematic in that it’s absolutely nothing like actual daily life for girls in high school. Several recent movies have dealt with this, and Inbetween Girl is one of the best.

Set in Galveston, Texas, the film tells the story of Angie (Emma Galbraith), an artistic young woman with no pretensions of being girly. She is somehow buddies with The Hot Guy, Liam (William Magnuson), and that’s where the trouble begins. Not only is he dating Instagram it-girl Sheryl (Emily Garrett), but he convinces Angie to keep their increasingly physical relationship just between them and the sheets.

At the same time, Angie’s home life is in chaos. Her parents have divorced, and her mixed-race heritage becomes an issue. Her Chinese-born father finds a Chinese-American wife, replete with over-achieving daughter that just happens to be Angie’s age. Her white mother throws herself even more into work, creating a scenario where Angie feels neglected on two fronts.

In the meat the movie, Angie loves everything about her fling with Liam. She has allowed herself to embrace the physical pleasure it gives her, and is content with being with him in only this way. She owns it, and as much as Liam is still a jackass for cheating on his girlfriend, the two of them live in blissful oblivion for a while. Until…

Eventually, Angie has to confront her actions in light of a burgeoning friendship with Sheryl. Seeing one young woman struggle both with hurting another while simultaneously trying to protect her is hard. It’s very adult stuff for a kid who should be doodling monsters with top hats instead of dealing with life’s most precarious emotions.

What director Mei Makino gets right with Inbetween Girl is never taking the easy way out in the midst of its various conflicts. Angie rages at her father for having seemingly moved on, and to her mother for caring too much. She hates herself for what she’s done, but also comes to grips with it and doesn’t give herself a pass, even in moving on.

Here’s to hoping for more realistic depictions of teenage girls. They can be hilarious and raunchy a la Booksmart or traumatized and resilient like in fellow SXSW breakout The Fallout. They can be anything and everything, and that’s what little girls are made of.

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