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SXSW 2021 Review: I wish 'Inbetween Girl' existed when I was a teen

Inbetween Girl is like if Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle" were a movie and that is the highest possible praise.

Emma Galbraith and William Magnuson as Angie and Liam in 'Inbetween Girl'
(Image: © Courtesy of SXSW)

Our Verdict

'Inbetween Girl' isn't afraid to talk about all of the things that nearly every teen girl thinks at one point in their adolescence.

For

  • 👾Sex positive af!
  • 👾Highlights that girls' bodies are normal without diverting the narrative.
  • 👾Complicated female friendships! Hurray!
  • 👾Normal teen reactions to crappy situations.
  • 👾A movie? Telling teen girls? Not to compare themselves? What kind of unicorn is this?!

Inbetween Girl is part of our SXSW 2021 coverage. You can find all of our reviews here.

So many things suck about being a teenager. You don’t know who you want to go or where you want to be, and everyone’s constantly asking you what your motivations are or five-year plan looks like. Adding divorce to that makes an already complicated time in young lives even worse. So, you can imagine how disgruntled young Angie Chen (Emma Galbraith) is by the time we catch up with her at the beginning of the film.

With her parents’ drama fresh on her mind, Angie turns to her classmate Liam (William Magnuson) for a distraction. While the two were already buds before Angie’s home flips upside down, but her desire for some sort of connection and Liam’s girlfriend not being intimate with him helps push the two together.

Oh, wait. Did I bury the lede? Yes — Liam has a girlfriend. Instagram superstar Sheryl White appears to be like your stereotypical, vapid teen celebrity on the surface and Liam’s the first to point out that she’s fragile. Over, and over, and over again, as a matter of fact! Angie’s little love affair has its rocky points, but the two ultimately settle on the idea of a kind of exploration of their sexual awakening (girlfriend be damned). That is, until Sheryl and Angie get partnered together for a project and she starts to realize that her new friend might not be the fragile airhead she’s been painted as.

All of that may sound like I’m dragging Inbetween Girl, but all of the non-spoilerly plot points are simply the lead-in to what ends up being a pretty exceptional sex-positive film. It’s the type of movie that made me both wish we had such things when I was younger, and elated for the generation of girls who are going to learn early on that their bodies are normal. Sex isn’t comfortable the first time! (It also shouldn’t hurt hurt. Talk to your partner!) It’s also hella awkward. That awkwardness will likely stick with you from partner to partner, and it’s completely normal. Every human being gets different satisfaction about different things, and first times are always a little weird.

Imagine what a better place the world would be if we all just knew that and didn’t spend our time walking around wondering if we’re broken like Angie does.

The boy drama might occupy much of Angie’s time, but it’s not the only thing bothering her. Nearly immediately after the divorce, her father found a new family. Her new stepmother and stepsister are both heavily focused on their Chinese ancestry. Though it’s something that Angie respects — especially when it comes to Chinese artists — their pitch-perfect Asian household makes her feel further ostracized from the father that she now only sees twice a month. To make matters worse, her stepmom (albeit unintentionally) continually compares Angie to her own daughter. The same daughter who speaks perfect Mandarin and will be headed to Stanford in the Fall.

At its core, Inbetween Girl is a manifesto to teen girls with a simple message: it’s going to be alright. Your bodies are normal. Your feelings are normal. Your despair, your rage, your fear, your hormones are all valid. The film also takes time to represent something not often illustrated well in media: not all crappy dudes are the kind that abuse you. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it shows that it’s never too late to say you’re sorry and that it isn’t the other party’s obligation to accept that apology.