Review by Cat Earley
Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022, Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert) broke the critical mile across multiple modes when it first premiered at South by Southwest last year; open themes of depression that engage, rather than clash, with an equally open silliness that permeates the narrative and makes its message more poignant, queerness as shown through the lens of one’s unaccepting family, and – perhaps the most fresh exploration of all – the fraught tensions that unite and divide different generations of Chinese immigrants.
Now, in the wake of the BAFTAS, Jessica Yu-Li Henwick’s Bus Girl (2023) attempts the same feat within its 11 minute runtime. Bus Girl follows June (Jessica Henwick), a college dropout and familial disappointment, struggling to put the pieces of her life together as she tries to carve out a place for herself in her world and in her society. Alongside her discovery of her own culinary passion, she must navigate her relationship with her Chinese mother and the tensions that lie at the heart of their relationship.
Despite its short length, Bus Girl manages to demonstrate, like Everything Everywhere All at Once before it, the nuanced relationships that both cause friction between and unite the generations of Chinese-American and Chinese-British immigrants respectively. Among all other technical feats, Bus Girl becomes a masterclass in the cinematic achievements that can now be reached on a smartphone, with its gorgeous scenery giving no indication that the film was shot on anything less than a standard big budget camera.
Bus Girl stands to perform well throughout its remaining meander through the festival season, and with good reason. The short film not only demonstrates technical innovation, but strides in tandem with a revolutionary new cinematic movement that highlights the lives of immigrants as they struggle to find their place in society. Among all other qualities, Bus Girl has become one of the pioneers of this subgenre in its devotion to passion, familial strife, uncertainty, and above all else, perseverance.