Film, Film Review

BAAFF REVIEW: Take Out Girl (2020) dir. Hisonni Mustafa

Part of the 2020 Boston Asian American Film Festival

by

There are the pizza boys — the not-so-glamorous part of food service but somehow iconic in their roles of breaking up tension at parties, representing a section of lanky teenage dorks, and perhaps exemplifying Rule 34. And then there is Take Out Girl, a Chinese American who lives in the hardened parts of LA. Tera (Hedy Wong) decides to leave college amidst her family’s financial struggles, despite her efforts in selling off her “smarts” to other students that like to make small talk to mitigate their academic sin. But Tera is no fool; right away, she badmouths Becky for presuming that she could pay for good grades when she doesn’t even try in class. “My name is Casey,” the character corrects, but it’s too late. Tera has left her stamp, precisely on this girl’s forehead that might as well be the shape of a letter L, before leaving the college building on her BMX bike.

Tera works at a Chinese restaurant that is run by her mother Wavy (Lynna Lee) and assisted by her brother Saren (Lorin Alond Ly) and friend Crystal (Mier Liu). Their story is known all too well for families in a financial ruin-cycle; Wavy’s hospital visit for her back pain has left their paychecks running in a hamster wheel, never making more than enough to get by. On the off chance of two deliveries at the same time, Crystal tells usual waitress Tera to help usual deliverer Saren to drop an order off. That order happened to belong to a druglord, Lalo (Ski Carr), who keeps his comic store business in the front and operates his drug party in the back. Because Tera’s bullheaded attitude doesn’t give in to anyone, she dismisses the danger of the situation. But the color of money smells greener than grass, and she comes back for the opportunity to deliver drugs disguised in take out boxes.

Take Out Girl, in many senses of the word, is an ambitious project. Tera, though smart, is spiraling downward with her decision making, only arriving closer to a predicted demise (for her or whoever gets in the way as collateral). She admits her privilege as a white-adjacent minority to be able to deal so freely, though probably not as kindly (“Your people,” she pitches to Lalo, “They’re not functional…cops see me, they see a little Asian girl.”). Wong’s performance has all the capabilities of evolving Tera into a character that could withstand stress while exhibiting fear and hesitation, doubling as a subversion to media depictions of the Asian American female and of the model minority. The film could have explored more into her relationship with Saren, but we are given what life has given Tera’s family. I imagine that the ending will be a controversial topic — not in ambiguity, but in, “How did the story even get here?” Such in the pursuit of the American Dream, there’s only one way to find out.

Take Out Girl
2020
dir Hisonni Johnson
100 min

Screens virtually at BAAFF on October 23 @9:30 PM following Hao Wu’s 76 Days and will be available until October 25!  Q&A with director/writer/producer Hisonni Mustafa, writer/producer/actress Hedy Wong, DP/producer Alberto Triana, and Melissa del Rosario, moderated by BAAFF director Susan Chinsen

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