One of the greatest experiences of any film festival is walking away from a movie feeling like you’ve seen the execution of an original vision from an original new voice. Sundance, in particular, has been the launching pad for dozens of long-standing careers. With his debut film “Dìdi,” writer/director Sean Wang might just be the next addition to that list.
Starring: Izaac Wang, Joan Chen, Shirley Chen
Directed by: Sean Wang (debut)
Written by: Sean Wang (debut)
“Dìdi” follows teenager Chris Wang (Izaac Wang), a 13-year old Taiwanese-American boy who is enjoying the summer between middle school and high school in 2008. With a stressful home life, Chris spends his time hanging out with his friends, making dumb YouTube videos and trying to skateboard. When he starts to develop a crush on a girl, Chris does everything he can to impress her, leading to a complicated time navigating the perils of being an awkward teenager.
Part of what makes “Dìdi” so special is the specificity and uniqueness of Wang’s voice. A big portion of why films like “Superbad” resonated so much with audiences is that its characters actually talked like teenagers, for better or worse. This is the case with “Dìdi,” as the script is filled with juvenile, immature jokes and slang. As a result, the kids you see here feel like actual characters, and like kids you may have known growing up.
A lot of the comedy in the film is also mined from Wang’s knack for capturing the cringe. Chris, like many teens, is awkward and largely without a sense of how to talk to girls. Wang uses this for some great moments of squirm, especially as he shows Chris do some internet sleuthing to try and align with a girl's interests and then get called out, having to weasel his way out of it.
As a result of some uncomfortable interactions, Chris’s fear and embarrassment seems to all manifest in anger. Through this experience, Wang isn’t afraid to make Chris a jerk, which also feels authentic to the adolescent experience. His growing antagonistic attitude towards his mom and sister, while of course mean and harsh, also carries a weight of the angst of feeling awkward, smothered, and overall without a clue of how to handle things. This also allows for moments of tenderness between him and his mom, where she gets to be honest back to him about how hard it is to not only be a mother, but to be an immigrant mother.
For many millennials, “Dìdi” will carry a very specific and potent wave of nostalgia that has never been captured better for this particular era of time. In particular, those who were the first generation to come of age in the online era may get a particular pang from the AOL Instant Messenger sounds and the all too real check of MySpace Top 8 to see where you land with your friends. But beyond its appeal to the millennial audience, “Didi” stands on its own as a breezy and funny time that explores the complications of growing up and fitting in, especially as a child of immigrants. It’s an assured debut from a talented filmmaker with a bright future.
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