Editor’s note: This review was originally published at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Gravitas Ventures releases the film to VOD on Friday, May 29.
While the 2020 SXSW Film Festival has been canceled due to the coronavirus, IndieWire is covering select titles from this year’s edition.
A typically winsome new addition to what has now become one of cinema’s most casual trilogies, “I Will Make You Mine” is a long-awaited gift for a small cult of fans: those who’ve been following Goh Nakamura’s romantic misadventures since “Surrogate Valentine” first introduced them to (a fictionalized version of) the lovelorn singer-songwriter in 2011. Nakamura returned shortly thereafter for a more grounded and heartsick sequel called “Daylight Savings,” but the “dreamsicle pop” musician has been missing from screens ever since, leaving us to wonder if he ever settled down or if he was consigned to spend all eternity crooning about the ways he almost found the right girl at the right time. Not only does “I Will Make You Mine” answer that question once and for all, but this shaggy and self-contained little ditty also asks it with enough warmth to seduce people who don’t know a thing about the sordid backstory that binds these characters together.
Written and directed by actress Lynn Chen, who seamlessly takes over the reins from Dave Boyle while also reprising her role as Rachel, the third and maybe final chapter of the “Surrogate Valentine” saga leaps forward in time like “Before Midnight” to find that life has caught up with Goh and his crushes. The first new detail is a bombshell: The nomadic troubadour has put down his guitar in favor of a steady day job, and though he’s still not together with his aloof but alluring ex-girlfriend Erika (“Man from Reno” star Ayako Fujitani), they now share an adorable six-year-old daughter.
Meanwhile, Goh’s stiff and forceful longtime friend (Chen) has settled into a troubled marriage with a white guy who recently cheated on her, while the spark plug of a musician who swept him away in “Daylight Savings” is still trying to make her dreams come true; a fictionalized version of Dreamdate frontwoman Yea-Ming Chen, Yea-Ming is the closest Goh has come to making out with himself, but now she reminds him of his failures and he reminds her of her regrets. For better or worse they’re stuck in each other’s heads like the chorus of a catchy pop song.
With all of these people collapsing together in California after the death of Erika’s father, the stage is set for some extremely gentle star-crossed shenanigans. Each of the film’s three main ladies have a certain attraction to Goh, who’s sweeter and more sheepish than ever now that he’s a middle-aged dad. An owly cross between Joe Shishido and a Starbucks barista — and a guy whose low-key demeanor hides the easy charm he exudes on stage — Goh is as passive a love interest as they come, but that makes him the perfect screen on which Erika, Rachel, and Yea-Ming can project their own regrets.
And none of them, Goh very much included, are good at letting things go. As the aggressiveness of the title coyly anticipates, “I Will Make You Mine” is a story about people who leap between the lily pads; people who’d change who they’re with only because it’s easier than changing who they are. Rachel, trying to pull the ripcord on her marriage, invites herself to Goh’s hotel room for a sensationally awkward night of social distancing. Yea-Ming offers him her heart on a string (or six). Erika is making it work as a single-ish mom, but Goh still offers her a tantalizing chance at wholeness.
Shot in the trilogy’s signature black-and-white and imbued with such airy weightlessness that the movie would float right off the screen if not for the lived-in density of the performances from its largely Asian-American cast and the heft of their built-in histories, Chen’s film bops along from one romantic entanglement to another as its various characters teach other to work through their problems rather than give up on them wholesale. “You miss the callouses,” Yea-Ming tells Goh when he admits that he hasn’t picked up his guitar in a long time. But it’s the callouses that make life worth living.
The chemistry between all of these characters is harmoniously electric, like the soft feedback that fuzzes out of an amp when it’s turned back on, and even the most loaded confrontations are fringed with the mutual love that comes from sharing music together (Nakamura’s sweet ditties and strums are sprinkled across the soundtrack, while Yea-Ming Chen takes the stage in an early scene that makes you want to root for her character in every respect).
Structured like a half-remembered pop tune and drifting by at a 75 minutes that feels as if it might not even be half that long, “I Will Make You Mine” is a sweet little bop about trying to find the rhythm of your life when you don’t really know how the song is structured. Find the melody and you’ll be humming it to yourself for days.
“I Will Make You Mine” was scheduled to premiere at SXSW 2020.