Sean Wang's feature length writing and directing debut, Dìdi, is a lovely coming of age film with inspiration drawn from Wang's own upbringing. Doused with a healthy amount of mid 2000's nostalgia, Dìdi follows 13 year old Chris Wang (Izaac Wang) during the final month before he begins high school. Sean Wang takes us through the wild wild west of burgeoning social media and how it played an integral role in kids' social circles.
Chris spends his time messaging his friends on AIM and keeping himself up to date on the latest news from his crush Madi (Mahaela Park) on her MySpace page. He has verbal battles with his sister Vivian (Shirley Chen) sometimes even in front of their mother (Joan Chen) and Nai Nai (Chang Li Hua) at the dinner table. Basically, its your prototypical setup with a 13 year old boy in 2008?
Following Chris across his online social life is one of the many highlights of Dìdi. Bringing us back to a time when online interactions were so new that everything had to be online. From random videos with your friends being on YouTube to whatever it is you're feeling at the time being on your Facebook wall. Sean Wang does a fantastic job transporting us to this time, but also directing his visuals in such a way that its also hilarious. The ability to have a scene be a cursor moving around a web page, and have it be outrageously funny takes some serious skill. But Sean's humor isn't just isolated to these few instances. He has written some incredibly funny dialogue for Chris, his friends Fahad (Raul Dial) and Soup (Aaron Chang), all still feeding into the plot that he's pushing forward. The delicate balance of storytelling and humor is astonishing for a first time feature film.
But not only is it just funny and to the point, there are some serious moments that establish fantastic themes throughout the film. Chris fighting with his mom, hitting another kid, or being embarrassed amongst his peers are all more serious in tone and are effectively written. These moments are well timed, well acted, and all work in the context of Chris' difficulties at his age and trying to satisfy the social pressures he feels are placed upon him. Moreover, the serious tones all have an authentic and personal layer to them about being the son of an immigrant family. Chris even lies about being half Asian to some of his new friends because he believes it'll help his standing amongst them. The social angst of being at Chris' age is well done across the board. From Izaac Wang's acting, to Sean's writing and directing, it all flows so effortlessly together.
Beyond all of Chris' internal anguish, Dìdi really is the story of a boy and his mother. No matter what he does wrong or how much Chris thinks his mother hates him, his mother will always love him. She will always be proud of him. There's a gorgeous monologue given by Chris' mother when he challenges her, saying she does in fact hate him. Still trying to make it as a painter in life, Chris' mom goes on about what her life would be like if she never got married or had her kids. Maybe she would be an accomplished painter? Maybe she would be living in New York and be wealthy. But all of these things mean nothing, because Chris and Vivian are her dream. There's nothing else she could possibly want instead. Sean Wang emphasizes the humanity and love in this with some wonderful close up shots that are as personal as can be. Ultimately resulting in a beautiful, heart warming ending that sees nothing but the love of a mother shower over her son.
The fact that this is Sean Wang's feature film debut is actually ridiculous. How can you be this good!? I guess his film shows his entrance into the visual arts but still. I loved this film. I loved what it said, how it said it, and boy did I enjoy watching it.
This movie really had a sort of classic feel to it. It nailed the coming of age sub-type, walked a fine line of humor and earnestness all while being entirely enjoyable. The mid 2000's nostalgia was hitting hard for me, pushing it further into feeling like a movie that I've known longer than I actually have. When you've got a film so serendipitous, you may as well pair it with an easy drinking, light beer to coast on. Moab Brewing's Rocket Bike American Lager is a fantastic California common/steam beer to enjoy with Dìdi and soak in some of those classic 2000's vibes.
With a nice amber color and a body that leans more medium, the Rocket Bike is an evenly balanced brew that is an easy drink. Heavy malt flavors followed by some caramel and nuttiness provides a nice depth to each sip. It is also a tad bit of a genre bending beer with its appearance, flavors and aroma. Leaning a bit into being an amber or a Vienna style lager, but essentially taking inspiration from both. The result is a delightful, easy drinking beer that can guide you through the fastidious activity of MySpace stalking.