Coming of age films generally tend to reflect the lighter times of youth. This lightness in tone is reflected even when things are tough for the characters onscreen. It reflects a certain level of innocence and nostalgia for simpler times. What is represented onscreen, though, is not oftentimes the full picture of what it means to come of age. Sometimes it’s messy. Sometimes it’s dangerous. Sometimes the ignorance of youth leads to poor, harmful, and even fatal decisions.
It’s only been in recent years where the audience has started to see more exploration and representation in what kinds of tales we see onscreen in this genre. Now BABY, DON’T CRY is the latest coming-of-age film that fully embodies the messiness, vulnerability, and – sometimes – trauma of growing up from a different character perspective. And it succeeds.
In BABY, DON’T CRY, audiences follow Baby (Zita Bai), a 17-year-old Chinese immigrant who dreams of one day becoming a filmmaker and moving to Los Angeles. However, life is all too real for the young teenager on the cusp of adulthood. When she is not in school, she is either taking care of her abusive mother (Helen Sun). Both are dealing with grief after the death of Baby’s father, a death that lingers heavily as both try to live their lives. Baby’s mother lingers in a state similar to dementia in a way, a madness that renders her like a child, lashing out every now and again. Baby’s grief manifests in other ways, with a fixation on dead things as well as finding new mediums to capture the life as she sees it around her. One day, however, she meets a 20-year-old delinquent named Fox (Vas Provatakis), which pushes Baby down a path that no one could have foreseen. A tale of toxic love, self-discovery, and more awaits viewers in this film.
BABY, DON’T CRY stars Zita Bai (Fun Sized Trouble), Vas Provatakis (Entropy), Helen Sun (Room 3), and Boni Mata (The Beta Test). The film is directed by Jesse Dvorak (Lost Angeles) from a script by Zita Bai. The film was produced by Zeron Zhao, Qiyu Zhou, and is Executive Produced by Zita Bai.
I should state that I’m coming at this film from a limited perspective, so there are some things I might not have picked up on in BABY, DON’T CRY. That said, this film has a power to it that cannot be denied. Bai’s script and perspective shine bright in this film, layering it with an authenticity that weeps from the screen. Bai herself as Baby is captivating, with Dvorak’s direction and Adam Leene’s camerawork capturing every expression to perfection. There is care and sensitivity taken in capturing the subject matter onscreen. The story itself goes in directions that some audience members might not feel comfortable watching play out, but the handling of it is done well. This is not a tale meant to be comfortable for the viewer. It is raw and must be absorbed whole.
Due in part to Bai’s personal hand, the audience sees through Baby’s eyes the isolation and ostracization in this corner of Seattle society. She endures subtle and nonsubtle racism and abuse from the people outside her home. School is no refuge. Neither is work. And, once she gets back home to her mother, it’s that precarious dance of walking on eggshells. Both Baby and the audience don’t know what to expect to find when Baby returns home. It makes it all the more understanding when Baby falls in love with Fox, a 20-year-old man that all but screams no good. But with no parent to guide her, and no friends to step in to keep her safe, Baby’s path makes all the more sense given all of the different stressors in her life. Therein lies the tragedy of this piece.
BABY, DON’T CRY has a clear perspective and voice. It generates curiosity. It is raw. At times, disorienting. This is not a coming-of-age story that is meant to tap into nostalgia or make one feel good. It captures a different side of what coming of age can mean if all the odds are not in an adolescent’s favor. The added element of the main character being a Chinese immigrant further enhances the depth the story takes itself. This story is mostly tragedy, a different element of self-discovery hits toward the film’s climax. The frame of hope, perhaps, is in the film’s final moments. But, even then, it is left for the audience to wonder. And that, to me anyway, solidifies the strength of this film.
BABY, DON’T CRY had its world premiere at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.
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