'I Will Make You Mine': Film Review | SXSW 2020

I Will Make You Mine - Publicity Still - H 2020
Grayhat/Gravitas Pictures
A beautifully shot, settled-down finale.

Lynn Chen writes and directs the third film in an indie trilogy started by Dave Boyle.

[Note: In the wake of SXSW's cancellation this year, The Hollywood Reporter is reviewing select fest entries that elected to screen digitally for critics.]

Few SXSW attendees in 2011 would have expected that Dave Boyle's likably shambling Surrogate Valentine would ever get the sequel treatment. But there was Daylight Savings the next year, another Austin premiere that followed Valentine's struggling songwriter (Goh Nakamura, playing a version of himself) through the romantic uncertainties of life on the road.

Nine years after the first installment, Boyle has handed the reins to actor Lynn Chen, who reprises her role in the trilogy while writing and directing I Will Make You Mine, the presumably final installment. Maintaining a consistent aesthetic with its predecessors — all the films benefit from rich, black-and-white HD and from gentle scores by Nakamura — the easygoing drama points its ensemble toward domesticity, watching as each character flirts with nostalgia and questions the wisdom of settled-down relationships.

Viewers who haven't seen (or possibly even heard of) the previous films should have little trouble jumping in here, as Chen's script spells relationships out economically. Her own character, Rachel, was originally framed as Goh's great unrequited love; today, she's in a troubled but pampered marriage to Josh (Mike Faiola), who has cheated on her but promised to stop.

Goh, after spending much of Daylight Savings with fellow musician Yea-Ming (Yea-Ming Chen), found himself back in Wisconsin, fathering and raising a child with a professor named Erika (Ayako Fujitani). The two have recently split up, but when Erika's father dies, Goh follows her to Los Angeles to help watch their daughter Sachiko (Ayami Riley Tomine)

L.A. seems designed to remind Goh of what he set aside — not just amorous opportunities, but performing the music that was so important to him — to become a father. He finds himself visiting the still-rootless Yea-Ming, enjoying the same playful chemistry with her as he tries to help her write a new song. (It's not clear whether he realizes the song was inspired by his return.) And Rachel, who appears to have been having "what if?" thoughts about Goh ever since her marriage hit choppy water, makes contact when she learns he's in Los Angeles. She never so much as kissed him during the years he obsessed over her, but she's clearly now entertaining the idea of a fling or something more.

For a film made by a woman, this is starting to sound like one hell of a middle-aged man's wish-fulfillment scenario, placing Goh in the middle of three attractive potential partners. But Make You Mine never plays that way. In part, that's because Nakamura exhibits no emotional neediness here: Bearded, a few pounds heavier and at ease with himself, he's a dad who has outgrown some old fantasies. But it's also because Chen spreads the film's attention around generously, exploring the uncertainties and disappointments of her female characters, as well.

Despite the high personal stakes, the pic avoids melodrama; even the prospect of breaking up Rachel's marriage plays out like something that might happen on a college road trip and be forgotten once the semester starts up again. Goh may turn up again on a monochrome big screen someday (if it happens, one assumes it will be at SXSW). But it probably won't be to try new romantic entanglements on for size.

Production company: Gray Hat
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures (Available Tuesday, May 26, on digital and cable on demand)
Cast: Lynn Chen, Yea-Ming Chen, Ayako Fujitani, Goh Nakamura, Joy Osmanski, Mike Faiola, Tamlyn Tomita, Ayami Riley Tomine
Director-screenwriter: Lynn Chen
Producers: Dave Boyle, Lynn Chen, Mye Hoang, Cathy Shim, Emily Ting
Executive producers: Nobu Nagatsuma, Michael Lerman, Duane Andersen, Gary Chou, Brian Kobashikawa, Joel Clark
Directors of photography: Bill Otto, Carl Nenzen Loven
Production designer: Ashley Bussell
Editor: Abe Forman-Greenwald
Composer: Goh Nakamura
Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Visions)

79 minutes