I Will Make You Mine (USA, 2020)
I Will Make You Mine completes what could be described as an accidental indie trilogy were it not for how this poignant and quietly purposeful finale came about. Written and directed by Dave Boyle, previous entries Surrogate Valentine (2011) and Daylight Savings (2012) were enjoyably unassuming hangout movies that took their cue from the laidback charm of DIY singer-songwriter Goh Nakamura, playing a fictionalized version of himself. Having since stepped outside his comfort zone with the elegant neo noir Man from Reno (2014), Boyle was adamant that he had exhausted Goh’s anecdotal potential. However, actress Lynn Chen, who played Goh’s unrequited crush, had other ideas.
Making her directorial debut from her own screenplay, Chen picks up the story from a female perspective to craft a definite conclusion that subtly imbues the semi-improvised feel of its predecessors with pressing emotional stakes. In this respect, the film’s title refers as much to Chen’s mission statement as it does to the somewhat misplaced yearning that the female characters still experience for Goh. Those who enjoyed the previous entries will initially relax into the familiar black-and-white aesthetic, which has been crisply recaptured by returning cinematographer Bill Otto, only to sense that a shift has occurred. For much of the first act, Goh is notable for his relative absence as Chen instead focuses on three women who have been in the lovelorn troubadour’s orbit over the years.
Grieving the recent passing of her father, college professor Erika (Ayako Fujitani) shares a six-year-old daughter with Goh but their relationship is in an ill-defined place. Meanwhile, his high school prom date Rachel (Chen) has married a successful businessman but finds herself thinking of Goh as she struggles to come to terms with her husband’s affair. Then there’s free-spirited Yea-Ming (Yea-Ming Chen) who takes whatever odd jobs comes her way while chasing her singer-songwriter dream. Their interrelated personal histories converge when Goh and Erika visit Los Angeles for her father’s funeral.
There are minor recriminations here, but I Will Make You Mine doesn’t set out to tear down Goh by suddenly revealing a toxic side to his sensitive slacker persona. However, his air of passivity certainly creates problems. One the one hand, it makes him appealing to unfulfilled women in moments of flux; on the other, his inability to address suppressed feelings keeps things in an infuriating holding pattern for all concerned. Goh is no less endearing than before and is still so mellow that he is able to sleep on a plane, then nod off again after checking into his hotel. Yet he is now more deflated than deadpan, having given up music in favor of a steady customer service job in order to meet parental responsibilities. Evidently still struggling with the professional transition, he’s not yet mature enough to serve as another person’s catalyst for change but could at least be more aware of how others see him. A hotel room reunion with Rachel is particularly awkward in this respect with Chen deftly conveying the distinction between expectations and reality as a withdrawn Goh fails to respond to his friend’s overtures.
While previous entries were essentially love letters to the indie music scene where Goh enjoyed modest celebrity status, his shock exodus allows a wider canvas which Chen uses to illustrate Asian American life at its most diverse. Incorporating elements of Via Text (2011), a short film directed by Abe Forman-Greenwald that Chen wrote and starred in, Rachel’s strand deals with the vacuum of upscale domesticity while the resolutely controlled Erika juggles motherhood with academic life yet is unable to find time for grief. Even when Chen dips back into the music world via Goh’s reconnection with Yea-Ming, it is now the enchanting female singer-songwriter who takes center stage as she tries to forge a fully-fledged career.
It’s to Chen’s credit that, beyond the overarching theme of letting go, she doesn’t contrive commonalities between these women. Instead, they constitute a realistic, fragmented cross-section that communicates occasionally through carefully composed text messages. In the eight years since Daylight Savings, appreciation for Goh’s music has become similarly incremental. His loose circle still adores his songs but are now more inclined to cherry pick their favorites on YouTube than put on one of his albums. The changes made to social interaction by technology are universal.
This finale may play in a different key to its predecessors, but Chen hasn’t jettisoned their signature pleasures. Much of the low-key observational humor clicks and the sequence in which Goh helps Yea-Ming with her latest song is a bittersweet celebration of the creative process. The performances are wonderful throughout with the immensely likeable ensemble finding ample opportunities for insightful nuances in Chen’s generous screenplay. Like the wistful songs by Goh and Yea-Ming that fill the soundtrack, I Will Make You Mine is a deceptively breezy take on the intricacies of relationships which lingers beautifully.