Review: The female gaze subtly elevates Asian American trilogy capper ‘I Will Make You Mine’
In “Surrogate Valentine” and “Daylight Savings,” a pair of enjoyably woolly studies in slackerdom directed by Dave Boyle that debuted at the 2011 and 2012 SXSW film festivals, respectively, Goh Nakamura played a fictionalized sketch of himself, an itinerant musician with a modest fan base and a web of unresolved relationships.
With “I Will Make You Mine,” Lynn Chen, who played Rachel in the first two films, makes her feature directing debut, taking the characters from “Surrogate” and “Daylight” on a third tour of the galaxy of Goh. More evolution than sequel, Chen‘s chapter maintains the laidback, low-fi charm and black-and-white aesthetic infused with Nakamura’s dreamy, pensive music but also grows the characters, infusing them with more narrative purpose.
Gathering the principals in Los Angeles, Chen’s script forefronts three female characters: Rachel, Erika (Ayako Fujitani) and Yea-Ming (musician Yea-Ming Chen, who, like Nakamura, plays a version of herself). The women were all involved with Goh in different ways and “I Will Make You Mine” functions as a form of reckoning for these relationships.
Erika, an academic who dated Goh (and is dismissively referred to as “the Professor” by the other women), returns to arrange her father’s funeral after five years in Madison, Wis. Rachel, Goh’s high school BFF, ponders “what ifs” as she recovers from her husband’s infidelity. Yea-Ming, a Vegas hookup for Goh (technically, he followed her from San Francisco), struggles with her songwriting and welcomes him back into her life as a mentor/collaborator.
Rather than diminishing Goh’s character, this shift in perspective deepens him. He’s the type of guy who stays friends with women, including the ones he’s slept with, but slips in and out of contact. His easygoing manner makes him attractive, but the noncommittal nature that comes with it frustrates anyone looking for something more serious.
Nakamura’s character doesn’t speak much, grappling with his music expressing more than he ever can with mere words. Here, a little older and wiser and seen through the eyes of the women, Goh’s earlier inertia begins to manifest as steadfastness, retroactively adding some substance to what went before.
Alice Wu returns with Netflix’s ‘The Half of It,’ a charming manifesto on love that mines both high school romances and classic movies.
The women also benefit from sharing the camera’s attention, with Chen filling in back stories and giving them agency in terms of how their stories play out. As with the two previous films, the predominantly Asian American cast inhabit their characters as soulful individuals, not merely archetypes or stand-ins for a community. Seeing the films hopefully creates a ripple effect, generating interest in the performers’ other work. Chen, of course starred in Alice Wu’s “Saving Face” and Fujitani is beguiling in Boyle’s 2014 neo-noir “Man From Reno.” Nakamura and Yea-Ming Chen’s music is available on the usual platforms.
Music is intrinsic to “I Will Make You Mine,” which takes its title from a jangly, infectious Yea-Ming tune, its stated directness at odds with the inherent messiness that lies beneath both the song and the movie. Not knowing what you really want in life and being stuck is a staple of slacker culture but sliding toward middle age often triggers realizations.
Chen, building on the foundation laid by Boyle, allows Goh and friends the resigned maturity to realize even if you’re not sure what you want, that — in the words of Mick and Keith — “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.”
'I Will Make You Mine'
Running time: 1 hour, 17 minutes
Playing: Available on VOD
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