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'Inbetween Girl' navigates the gray areas of growing up

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Being stuck in between things isn't always the most comfortable space to be in. Whether it's jobs, trying to decide what you want to do after high school or college, or whether to make that big move or not, it's very tricky. But those in-between moments are also where we can learn the most, and that's one of the big themes in a new film called "Inbetween Girl."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INBETWEEN GIRL")

KELSEY BUCKLEY: (As Rebecca) You're not, like, secretly in love with Liam or anything, are you?

EMMA GALBRAITH: (As Angie Chen) Oh, my God, no.

BUCKLEY: (As Rebecca) Oh, my God. Yes, you are.

GALBRAITH: (As Angie Chen) No, I'm not.

BUCKLEY: (As Rebecca) No, I can see it.

GALBRAITH: (As Angie Chen) No.

BUCKLEY: (As Rebecca) I can see it in your eyes. You can't hide from me. You can't hide from me.

GALBRAITH: (As Angie Chen) Rebecca.

BUCKLEY: (As Rebecca) Yes, you are. No, it's fine. No, I'm not going to tell anybody.

WILLIAM MAGNUSON: (As Liam) And you said Liam.

GALBRAITH: (As Angie Chen) I said your name because I saw you, like, two seconds before then.

MAGNUSON: (As Liam) Angie, Angie, it's OK. It's OK. You're not in love with me. It's really obvious because you're freaking out because you're not in love with me.

GALBRAITH: (As Angie Chen) I feel like you're mocking me.

RASCOE: Is she really in love with Liam? What does being in love really mean, anyway? "Inbetween Girl" is about Angie Chen, a Galveston, Texas, teenager played by Emma Galbraith. Angie's learning how to navigate the uncomfortable grey areas of growing up. The movie is written and directed by Mei Makino, and she joins us now. Welcome.

MEI MAKINO: Hi. Thank you so much for having me. I'm super happy to be here.

RASCOE: We're glad to have you here. So tell us about this in-between girl, Angie Chen. And when we meet her, she is a teenager, and I feel like that's a really in-between time in your life. But what is going on with her?

MAKINO: Yeah. She's kind of going through a lot right now. She goes to this Episcopalian school, and she's one of the only people of color there, but she's never really been in touch with her Asian heritage. So her parents kind of go through a divorce, and her father, who is from China, meets a Chinese woman, and she kind of has to contend with this part of herself that she hasn't before. And at the same time, she is having this flirtation with this boy named Liam at school, only Liam has a girlfriend. And she ends up kind of befriending the girlfriend and kind of being in between the girlfriend and Liam. So she's definitely in a lot of in-between places.

RASCOE: You know, there are a lot of projects or movies, TV shows that focus on this coming-of-age thing. And in this film. Was part of that, you know, bringing to the genre something that you hadn't seen before? So bringing Galveston, Texas, bringing a mixed race girl in this predominantly white space trying to figure that out - is that what you wanted to bring?

MAKINO: Yeah, partially that. Another huge part that I wanted to bring was the messiness of the teen experience, you know? I grew up in a time, like, watching Hilary Duff movies, which I loved, but, like, they were always very polished and very perfect. And, you know, a lot of my experiences in love growing up - they weren't always great, but I learned a lot from those experiences. And they also, like, didn't define me, you know?

RASCOE: Yeah, yeah.

MAKINO: And I wanted to have a teen girl who goes through this experience. And it's not super savory, and it's not super great, but she has fun along the way, and at the same time, she learns a lot. She's a better person because of it.

RASCOE: So let's talk - let's dig into that love interest, Liam. He's the most popular boy in school. Angie and Liam are good friends. It develops into, I guess, a bit of a situationship (ph). I guess older people would call it friends with benefits. Who - we don't know exactly what you call it. I would say it's not friends with benefits because Liam was a jerk, and I don't know what benefit he was providing. But with that messiness of developing that character of Liam, how did you feel about him? - because I didn't - I had strong feelings about him.

MAKINO: Oh, yeah. Liam is a controversial figure, for sure. For sure. And I just want to say, the actor who plays him, William Magnuson, is the sweetest person.

RASCOE: He's so - he's nice.

MAKINO: He's so nice. Like, I just want to say that because people are really, really hard on Liam. The worst thing that he does is he doesn't want to be seen with her in public. I think when they're together and they're alone, like, he can be really charming and fun. And it was interesting because in the very first cut, there was really more of an arc for Liam in the script. And there's this really emotional scene at the end where he, you know, talks to Angie, and he wants her back. But unfortunately, keeping that scene in the film took away from Angie's coming of age, so we ended up having to cut it, and we ended up kind of having a different version of Liam where he kind of ends up going on to the next girl rather than kind of coming to terms with what he's done, which is definitely a rougher side to that character. But I do think somebody with Liam's privilege isn't going to really have to take a hard look and come to terms with what he's done a lot of the time.

RASCOE: Talking about the messiness of this, Angie does not always make the best decisions, which none of us do, but definitely as a teenager. But at least, like, the mistakes weren't, like, life-altering. Like, was that important to you?

MAKINO: Yeah. I knew that Angie was going to make mistakes. I knew that the audience was going to be looking at the screen and being like, Angie, don't do it. What are you doing, you know? But, like, in her head, this is all happening for the first time. And, I mean, if you look at anyone's life, you know, we don't always make the best decisions, but I don't think we should shame ourselves for it. And, like, that's what I love about Angie at the end, is she doesn't shame herself for anything. She really, really takes responsibility for everything she's done. And I think, like, that's the biggest coming of age, is, like, she does not great things, but she owns it, you know what I mean? And she moves forward as a better person.

RASCOE: Mei Makino is the writer and director of "Inbetween Girl." Thanks for talking with us.

MAKINO: Thanks so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIFTEEN (TAYLOR'S VERSION)")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) Because when you're 15 and somebody tells you they love you... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.