B-Side: For Taylor (2023)
B-Side: For Taylor (2023)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.

Release Date: March 1st, 2023 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Christina YR Lim Actors: Jeannine Vargas, Jacky Jung, Dave Huber, Esther Moon, Dexter Farren Haag, James Kang

 


 

“U

npredictable” 14-year-old Taylor Wagner (Jeannine Vargas), a Korean-American adopted at the age of 1, grew up in the small town of Overlook, Virginia. Although she’s had a fantastic experience in the U.S., is terribly fond of singing, and is surrounded by loving parents in a welcoming home, she deals with bouts of anxiety (sometimes brought on by local bullies) and a nagging curiosity as to what it might be like to associate with other Koreans (her neighborhood is essentially all-white, causing her to occasionally feel as if an outsider). She’s even been reading articles online about how to write to birth parents for the first time, as she looks into the adoption agency that handled her case.

As luck would have it, the Korean Lee family from Seoul moves in next door – a considerable change of pace for the conspicuously homogenous community. And their daughter,
Da-Young (Jacky Jung), is right around the same age as Taylor. When the singing enthusiast gets in trouble, her father opts not to ground her, but to force her to tutor Da-Young in English, which backfires to the point of total propitiousness; their anticipated friendship (fueled by Da-Young’s “silly” pop-star dreams) transitions into a potential outlet for getting closer to the mystery of Taylor’s biological family.

The setup and character introductions are straightforwardly routine, but it’s difficult to dismiss just how charismatic and authentic Vargas and Jung are; their performances are thoroughly convincing and entirely heartwarming. Every scene in which they’re together is curiously joyous. It also comes as a distinct contrast to the brief moments of roughhousing tormentors and a tragedy in the Wagner family, shifting the mood from one of mild discontent to notable hopefulness. This is in addition to the obvious themes of the pressures and stresses of conformity, of keeping up appearances, of living up to expectations, and of trying to impress or please others (borrowing from such major, recent works as “Minari” and “CODA”).

Also of significance are the concerns of how adoptive parents might feel about their children searching for birth parents, as well as the potential heartbreak of birth parents being unwilling to communicate with the children they put up for adoption (concepts that are fundamentally autobiographical, and therefore more authentic, for writer/director Christina YR Lim). “What if they don’t want to hear from me?” But before the nitty-gritty of complicated familial untangling and the depressing details of desperation, there’s the inspirational wholesomeness of two young girls bonding over shared interests, of Taylor attempting to reconnect and reevaluate her relationship with her father (Dave Huber), and even of Taylor unrealistically (and short-sightedly) – but no less movingly – helping the very boy who antagonizes her.

This tale may have familiar hallmarks of other down-to-earth, family-focused, teen-oriented dramas, as well as a certain un-cinematic quality of incredibly ordinary, sensible, intermittently guessable happenings, but it still manages to present engaging personas pursuing emotional endeavors. Even when the pacing hiccups, or the plot dwells a touch too long on inessential sequences, or revelations prove moderately too extraordinary for the film’s design, the characters remain dependable sources of entertainment. The music, cinematography, and editing tend to give away the picture’s modest budget, contributing to evident technical deficiencies that designate intermediate filmmaking acumen, but the actors and the story are handled so well, with a marvelously poignant finale, that the end result is a truly impressive little production.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10