The Sundance Film Festival 2024 coverage continues with two entries involving youth and navigating social circles at a vulnerable age.
The first is a sequel to the documentary Boys State titled Girls State, where the girls run mock elections in a massive group.
The second film is a coming-of-age story called Didi, about an Asian American teenager learning to be true to himself in an awkward phase of life.
Both movies are derived from different genres but equally, have something to say about finding oneself in a large social gathering.
Should viewers see these movies?
Here are our capsule reviews of Didi and Girls State from Sundance 2024.
Girls State is a documentary of a different flavor than its predecessor. The first entry was a captivating spotlight on how cutthroat politics can be, even among children. Boys State felt similar to the Stanford Prison Experiment, where personalities change when thrown inside a simulation.
Because of its intense nature, Boys State will always be the more compelling watch. Even so, the discussions in Girls State remain essential.
The follow-up concerns less with simulating elections and more with women and their role in democratic institutions. It is documented on the eve of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling.
Directed by Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, Girls State centers on a handful of teenage girls running mock elections and policy processes alongside the Boys State crowd. The sequel dives deeper into the systems of government and how social dynamics play a crucial role in someone winning.
For instance, one of the documentary’s most tragic characters is Nisha, a minority, running for the Supreme Court position alongside her close friend Brooke. As hard as she tries, Brooke has the advantage.
It’s easier for Brooke to feel more comfortable than Nisha, who feels shy and out of place as a minority. Even so, Brooke and Nisha become close friends, which would never happen in the first documentary.
The documentary explores various viewpoints among younger women on the topic of abortion. One of the key characters in the documentary is Emily, a conservative and an aspiring journalist.
We witness Emily debate the merits of being pro-life in different scenes. But the fascinating aspect of Emily’s journey is that she even believes women, not men, should decide. Near the end, Emily recognizes the inequality between how Girls State and Boys State operate.
The sisterly nature of this documentary is why Girls State will be received less positively among critics. The girls show more camaraderie among each other and lean on one another.
The social systemic issues remain in the mock elections and constructs. Still, the girls in the documentary feel united in their disagreements –a sentiment that used to be common in the United States.
The bonds and warmth among the Girls State crowd feel stronger. The period could play a factor as women’s rights were on trial. Either way, the maturity among the girls in this documentary demonstrates why we need more women as leaders. Overall, Girls State is a worthy follow-up that remains timely and thoughtful.
The ages of 13 and 14 are arguably the most challenging period for a teenager. Teenage years are not always a comedic drama like Superbad. At age 13, some may experience the pain of feeling different and lacking the emotional maturity to navigate social norms. Didi uncomfortably explores this idea.
Think of the most awkward moment from your teenage years, and the feeling might capture the essence of Didi. The cringe-inducing nature of different scenes might steer some away. But between Sean Wang’s direction and Izaac Wang’s raw performance, the final product is surprisingly authentic.
The film centers on Chris (or Wang Wang as his friends call him), an Asian American kid who lives with his mother, Chungsing Wang (Joan Chen), and sister Vivian (Shirley Chen). Chris is a reserved person with a small circle of close friends but possesses a strong internal drive to fit in.
The film depicts Chris growing up in the mid-2000s around the rise of social media platforms like MySpace. He also interacts with friends using AOL Instant Messenger.
Of all the films that try to capture this period’s feelings, Didi feels the most accurate. Kids and adults were still going outside, and being stuck inside and disengaged on a cell phone had not yet become a trend.
But at its core, Didi is about Chris trying to discover how to be himself and make friends in a difficult time. The writing pulls no punches with the main character.
At times, Chris will say or do the wrong thing unapologetically. He has a big heart, but he also can be mean-spirited. For example, he outright lies to a friend, telling him that a girl sexually touched him.
For a character that is an adult, it would warrant the main character as unlikable. But here, it’s a kid trying to understand the world. Children say and do terrible things (sometimes unwittingly), and Didi shows how making mistakes helps a teenager grow.
Because of the subject matter, the character Chris is not an easy role to play. Yet, Izaac Wang makes it look simple for being so young. Portraying weakness is not a typical thing actors enjoy, and some adult performers cannot execute weakness.
In Didi, Wang delivers a profoundly moving performance with a script that requires boldness from him. Without a doubt, he is a performer to keep on the radar.
Didi is the most uncomfortable coming-of-age story in years, but it’s incredibly relatable. The script and film are embedded with tender moments about family and building friendships.
Moreover, they capture the essence of learning from mistakes while being young. Didi is moving, authentic, and a love letter to every misunderstood teenager.
For Sundance attendees at home, read our full list of anticipated films to purchase. Also, read our reviews of other Sundance 2024 movies, such as Thelma, and our capsule reviews of Love Me and Eternal You.
Stay tuned for more Sundance 2024 coverage at Monsters and Critics.