YEAR: 2023 / COUNTRY: UNITED STATES / LANGUAGE: ENGLISH & MANDARIN / RUN TIME: 91 MIN
Starring: Izaac Wang, Joan Chen, Shirley Chen, Chang Li Hua
Director(s): Sean Yang
In his striking directorial debut, Sean Wang takes us on a kinetic ride through the ups and downs of adolescence, mining personal experience to share a joyful, funny, and deeply affecting ode to first-generation teenagers navigating the beauty and pain of cultural heritage in a sea of conformity. Wang confidently steers us through the freewheeling early days of social media, where AIM emoticons and MySpace rankings carry the weight of heartbreak and friendships forged and broken. Both a moving love letter to immigrant parents and a playful examination of our uncertain paths to adulthood, Dìdi (弟弟) reminds us that growing up and growing into better versions of ourselves are often one and the same.
Written By Darren Zakus
Rating: 4 out of 5
Dìdi is a delightful coming of age film that transports audiences back to the summer of 2008 with a hilarious and heartwarming story from writer and direct Sean Wang in his feature film debut, that easily becomes one of the most enjoyable films of the year thanks to the incredible performances from Izaac Wang and Joan Chen.
Every generation has that coming of age drama that captures a time in their childhood where the characters remind them of themselves at that time in life dabbling with first romances, struggling with friends and growing profoundly as individuals. Bringing his own personal experience and a cultural lens as a first generation teenager growing up in the United States in the 2000s, writer and director Sean Wang’s feature film debut captures all the excitement, emotion and challenges of adolescence in a beautiful film that is certain to strike all the right notes with audiences. Instantly viewers are transported back to the summer of 2008, but it’s the emotional journey that Sean Wang takes both the audience and his main character on that makes this a true delight from start to finish.
It is clear from the get go what a wonderful screenplay that Sean Wang has written for his feature film debut. The story captures everything that the audience loves about a coming of age story: first love, references to the time period, moments of childhood bliss that remind viewers of a more carefree time in their life, and stirring family drama that helps catapult our main character’s growth and taking a step towards adulthood by the end of the film. The references range from the costume design that capture the styling of late 2000s teenagers, the music choices and films like The Dark Knight that Chris and his friends are talking about, and the use of early social media platforms like MySpace, AOL Instant Messenger, and one of the earlier versions of Facebook (which will send some viewers through a loop of a time long forgotten), each helping to bring to life the summer of 2008 for both the characters and the audience. Sean Wang effortlessly captures what the audience expects from a coming of age story, but he infuses it with his own experience as a first generation teenager growing up in the United States, which adds an emotional subtext to the entire story. Chris’s family struggle is unique to their identity, capturing the clash between traditional parents and children who have grown up as Americans, told with a grace and understanding of both the parent who is trying to uphold their culture values and the young child who doesn’t understand or care about these values, all by a young man who has grown up and now able to see the nuances and cultural importance of both sides this clash. It results in a truly beautiful film that makes every second of its ninety-one minute runtime count full of laughter, tears and absolute joy, delivering one of the most enjoyable films of the entire Sundance Film Festival this year.
As incredible of a job that Sean Wang has done crafting this story and the atmosphere that the audience are going to experience while watching this film, the film’s success ultimately rests on his cast, and they more than deliver the goods. Leading the film is Izaac Wang as Chris and he is excellent in the lead role of Chris. He instantly finds the young and mischievous teenager in Chris, with a love of profanity, skateboarding and hanging out with his friends, but there is a timidness that Izaac Wang brings to the role when it comes to Chris’s romantic endeavours. It captures that joy, mystery and fear of a first summer romance perfectly, bringing to life one of Chris’s many side adventures over the course of the film. Joan Chen is absolutely stellar as Chris’s mother Chungsing. Immediately, you can feel the love for both her children and her tireless effort to not only connect with them and try to know what is happening in their lives, but to provide them both a life she never had. Chen brings a warm determination to character that captures this mother’s love for her children, but when it comes to the conflict between Chris and Chungsing, both Izaac Wang and Chen soar with their performances. They each bring a passionate fight to the film, capturing the unique heartbreak each of their characters is feeling and leads to so emotionally charged interactions between them that will tug on the audiences’ heartstrings. The entire cast of young actors in this film are good, but Izaac Wang and Chen are on another level and create the beautiful experience that you are bound to have watching Dìdi.
Some films feel like a warm hug from days of yesteryear that wrap up nostalgia, heartfelt emotions and laughter in one delightful bundle, and that is exactly what Dìdi. Not only is it an excellent written and directorial debut for Sean Wang, but when combined with his Academy Award nomination for his short film Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó this year, it proves that we have one rising filmmaker on our hands who’s next film you will not want to miss. With two brilliant performances from Izaac Wang and Joan Chen, Dìdi instantly becomes an endearing trip down memory lane in a beautiful coming of age story that confirms writer and director Sean Wang as one filmmaker to keep your eyes on over the coming years.