Monday, March 8, 2021

The Girl Who Left Home - SAAFF 2021 Movie Review

The Movie: The Girl Who Left Home

The Director: Mallorie Ortega

The Cast: Haven Everly, Emy Coligado, Paolo Montalban, Lora Nicolas, Liz Casasola, Russwin Francisco, Mitch Poulos

The Story: A musical dramedy about a Filpino-American female who must put her dreams aside to keep her family restaurant from eviction.

The Review:
Okay, so when I first looked into this movie, it was during the Los Angeles Asian American Film Festival and then again at the Hawaii International Film Festival. Each time, I wasn't able to watch the film so I was glad to see it on the list of official selections for the Seattle Asian American Film Festival and I was determined to finally check it out. The movie is directed by Mallorie Ortega, it is her first feature film, it is a musical dramedy, coming of age story about a Filipino family, and from what I understand it was made on about as small of a budget as you can imagine. I mean, what could go wrong, right? In this case, not much.

The thing that I actually really liked about this film is how small and intimate it feels, I'm not sure if the story would have played out as well on a larger scale. The story is about family and relationships and the musical numbers have a lot of heart and meaning put into them, this isn't just a song and dance show for the sake of doing it. It's pretty clear that this is an important and personal story for the director  and there's probably a bit of her own family and story sprinkled into the narrative, it just has that feel to it which is absolutely a good thing. Also, the cast is pretty fantastic which doesn't hurt either. Also, from what I understand, every Filipino character in the movie is played by a Filipino actor so the movie is a great example of authentic representation.

The three main characters are Christina, played by Haven Everly, Christina's mom Mary, played by Emy Coligado, and Tito Tony, played by Paolo Montalban. Each of the cast members brought a unique personality to their characters and they seemed perfectly suited to play the roles they were chosen for. Both Coligado and Montalban provided some great comic relief moments while still being able to dig into the emotional stuff when called for. I really hope a lot of people get to see this movie as it could provide a real breakout opportunity for Haven Everly. She makes it seem effortless in how she takes on everything that her character is put through from song and dance routines to some seriously emotional heavy lifting and comes away with a very likable and relatable performance.

Being a musical, this movie of course has several songs and each is well written and integrated into the story in a very natural way, I never really felt like the characters were just spontaneously bursting into song for no reason. This is one of the more impressive aspects of the story from a filmmaking perspective as well as how fearless Ortega is with injecting as much Filipino culture and generational family values as she can. A lot of the drama comes from differences, misunderstandings, and miscommunications between parents and their children and it's really interesting to see the director explore those dynamics. All this and I haven't even mentioned all the cooking and delicious foods we get to see throughout the movie. Do not watch this movie on an empty stomach unless you have plenty of food and/or snacks available.

The Verdict:
The Girl Who Left Home combines all the right ingredients for a heartfelt musical dramedy that showcases Filipino family, food, and culture. Mallorie Ortega's debut feature film is filled with promise and entertaining performances. Job well done all the way around.

To keep track of all my reviews and festival coverage please go to: TwoOhSix at SAAFF 2021.

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