Eating ice cream in a lovely restaurant made Lily and her girls happy, and it felt like they were back in America. This is, in my opinion, the most painful scene in the entire film.

May 6, 2022

American Girl, Maybe We Should Rename It American Girls?

What do you think of the American Girl after reading the logline or synopsis? Is the screenplay appealing to you? Can you get the character's struggle in a specific environment when you watched it? I'll put my review and thoughts on the screenplay below.

What do you expect? When do you see a movie’s title? I’ve been playing this little game with myself before watching a movie or TV show for a long time. When the poster is on the screen, it can take a long time to press the play button.

American Girl is a nice one. A teenage girl is lying down on her mother’s lap while the mother cleans the girl’s ear. That’s a great shot. It catches my attention. This is something that the majority of Chinese youngsters have gone through. Mother (most of the time is the mother) cleans the ears of their children. A warm relationship between a daughter and a mother hits me from the poster. Of course, the girl’s adolescent problems ahead of this relationship are tight——DRAMATIC! (However, I am terrified of watching some cliche, process/scenes/dialogues, etc.)

Another bright aspect of this picture is the cultural conflict. Crazy Rich Asians (2018), Dead Pigs (2018), The Farewell(2019), Little Big Women(2020), Tigertail(2020), and other films with similar themes have appeared in recent years. These films, in my opinion, are a good sign that Asians’ (or individuals who can speak Chinese) stories are being written. (That means I’ll have more opportunities! Yay!) Sorry, returning to American Girl.

Cultural clashes or unusual atmospheres/cultures can always disrupt our everyday lives and produce amazing wonders in cinema. In screenwriting, it’s a useful tool/element/material; if you get a deep observation, well, that’s fantastic. Unlike An Lee’s previous films, Pushing Hands and The Wedding Banquet, American Girl focused on the maturation of an adolescent girl rather than the cultural struggle.

The story revolves around Lily, a woman who returns to Taiwan with her two daughters, Fangyi and Fangan, after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. After the holiday, the elder daughter, our protagonist, Fengyi, who is named an American girl, dreams about returning to America. Her desire was set up at the very beginning, and got throughout the whole film, till maybe she gave up it.

Returning to the film’s title. To be honest, I expect a coming-of-age film like Ladybird once I know who the “American girl” is and how old she is. In most of the scenes/actions involving Fangyi, her hair is cut off due to school rules, she receives corporal punishment because she failed the Chinese exam, and she wants to contact her friend in America so she sneaks into the Internet cafe where all the parents have forbidden their kids from getting, and as a result of this act, Fangyi and her mother Lily have a big quarrel, and so on. I get to see Fangyi’s experience in Taiwan through the lens of the film. Her desire, moods, and the process of maturation are all visible on the screen.

Is this film satisfying to me? As an audience, más o menos. As a writer, Nah.

Another game I play with myself is, “What will I do?” How do I write this if I’m not satisfied with a particular section? And why is that?

Why didn’t the camera seize Fangyi tighter? I want to know more about her disappointment, her struggle, and her powerlessness. Instead, the film depicts the mother’s and father’s lives separately; well, you could say, it’s the environment description, but it’s for reminding the viewer that Fangyi’s parents had no choice but to do their best. But, like any teenager, Fangyi doesn’t know all that has happened in their parents’ world and may not care about their parents’ lives (since she/he has a slew of problems to deal with). Many plots/events involving Fangyi’s parents, in my opinion, should be written, but not in this loose way.

I recall a scene in which Fangyi’s father and a colleague sat on a bench. The coworker intended to sell a Guanyin statue to Fangyi’s father. I can notice the writer is attempting to draw comparisons between different religions in one little family (Lily is a Christian). Painstakingly. Unfortunately, this scene did not create a dramatic effect; rather, it just presented.

About the Ending. Fangan, the little sister gets pneumonia and is quarantined at the hospital. This big sequence solves this family’s crisis. The SARS atmosphere was not mentioned previously, therefore at this critical juncture, this plot is like God’s hand plunging into the story. Oh, you can respond, “That’s life,” but I just want to say, “That’s a Film Concept.” I agree that the movie is about the redemption of physical reality. The film is infinitely closer to reality, therefore scripting a film should be done in a flexible and intelligent manner. If the film had previously offered a little, just a little information (a line or a background) about SARS, it would be more reasonable and would have no breakage.

Back to this piece’s title. This film is about a family, specifically the daughter and mother who have an American dream and have already immigrated to America for years. Lily rises up and asks a question to the other parents at the school’s parents’ meeting, which is a brave and cool activity. She succumbs to cancer but retains her dreams. Different points of view in this film; when I finished it, this title came to mind.

So, what will I write under the title of this film?

  • I’ll take Fangyi’s point of view, which will be a teen film. Seize the point of Fangyi, and emphasise her struggle, thus a lot of plots of the family will take a sideway to write;
  • Emphasis “who am I” in her growing up;
  • Delete all scenes that aren’t linked to the protagonist, so order to portray them tightly.
  • If the main tension in this family is between Fangyi and Lily, the climax and ending should revolve around it. I’ll list some activities they made to enhance their relationship at the ending part.

I’d like to write my initial thought after watching a film. I figured out the unreasonable/uncomfortable bits, took some notes, and maybe someday I’ll include these in my screenplays, or maybe I’ll change my mind.

We’ll see what happens.