The 2024 Sundance Film Festival is the year of the debut director as much as it is the year of coming-of-age movies with Didi filling both of those buckets. Writer-director Sean Wang brings a hilariously fresh and super self-referential look at what the summer before going to high school is really like.
13-year-old Chris Wang (Izaac Wang) — also known as “WangWang” to his closest friends Soup, Fahad, and others — is just like any other kid growing up. He has an interest in skateboarding, making videos, and kissing girls. He also has endless dread and regret about his actions and words. He consistently undermines his own confidence and honesty with cringe humor and tepid anger towards his older sister and mother. Yet, he innocently presses forward in trying his best to discover just who he is — especially as a Taiwanese-American who is fond of downplaying his family heritage and culture.
All of that is hard enough to manage in real life but Facebook and MySpace are an entirely different world to the hyper-adolescent WangWang. Set in the late 2000s — during the height of the migration from MySpace to Facebook — Chris’s online identity is just as important, if not more so, than that of his corporeal one.
In a time and space that is authentically captured both in wall posters of Paramore and Underoath and movie influences like Superbad, the pubescent vibe is off the charts. The film feels familiar at its core, featuring hints of Jonah Hill‘s mid90s — WangWang even finds himself at a party looking sheepishly at the drinking and smoking happening all around him — and Greta Gerwig‘s Lady Bird, allowing for the story to immediately find a cozy place to nestle up beside you. It’s also got sparks of Everything Everywhere All At Once in its stupendous and outlandish editing style, courtesy of Arielle Zakowski, who most recently worked on 2023’s cult hit Missing.
‘Didi’ Reminds Us We Never Really Stop Growing Up
Didi is undoubtedly at least semi-autobiographical, featuring all too accurate depictions of the teenage obsession with “your mom” jokes and posting photos on Facebook reading “Dark Knight Round 6 With The Homies.” Wang authentically and potently extracts an incredible amount of heart from every scene whether it be cringe-worthy or tear-inducing. As Chris changes friend groups to that of skaters looking for a “filmer,” he starts to fall away with his tightest acquaintances who were never at risk of being pushed out before high school reared its adult-shaped head. On top of this, his naturally strained and volatile relationship with his older sister is put on the evolution fast track as she is prepping to move away to college.
The film expertly winds its way through not only Chris’s evolution toward a new chapter in life — thus placing itself amongst the coming-of-age movies Mount Rushmore — but also offers insight into the viewpoint of his mom, friends, and potential first kiss that he ends up chickening out of.
The question of growth is never answered. Towards the end of the film, Chris has a feverish exchange with his mother, ultimately asking her if she is ashamed of him. She responds in truth, pondering the success of her own life along with Chris; two people at starkly different stages in life sharing a core exploration.
Director Sean Wang adroitly hones in on a hyper-specific moment in time in both growing up and the world at large that supports in setting this coming-of-age story apart from the rest — allowing a deeply heartfelt story to live and breathe as the runtime races by. The heart and soul driving every decision in front of the camera as well as behind it is unmistakenly evident, lending Didi to be a story about true maturation through the best and the worst of moments in teenage life. My personal favorite out of the Sundance lineup that I got the chance to watch, this will quickly become a comfort film of mine upon its wider release.
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'Didi' Sundance Film Festival 2024 Review'Didi' Sundance Film Festival 2024 Review
- Razor-sharp editing and dialogue perfectly capture the late 2000s era.
- Deep and heartfelt script makes for a standout coming-of-age story.
- It can't get released soon enough.