Teenage dreams and fickle adolescence fosters fertile ground for storytellers. For decades, teen romances have signaled the importance of growing up, all while displaying the pitfalls we experience in the process. As one of the great uniters of audiences, regardless of race or upbringing, the trials and tribulations of young adulthood continue to fascinate. However, these narratives most often chronicle a single lens: that of young white men. Baby, Don’t Cry looks to upend that trend, telling the story of a young immigrant to a Seattle high school. With Zita Bai serving as the lead actress and the screenwriter, Baby, Don’t Cry delivers a satisfying new experience that refuses to ignore the dirty realities of growing up.
Baby, Don’t Cry follows the 17-year-old Baby, a young woman who carries her camera everywhere. The young woman finds herself alienated by her peers if they even acknowledge her existence at all. She desires a typical teen experience, complete with boyfriends, sex, and self-discovery. As an immigrant still learning English, her dream has alluded her. After meeting Fox (Vas Provatakis), a young adult, she chases her dream of normalcy no matter the cost.
Bai gives herself the difficult task of developing the title character on screen and through her screenplay. Her understanding of the nuance of Baby cannot be understated. While it would be easy to paint Baby as a girl seeking a new life who gets taken away by peer pressure, Bai infuses the performance with truthful exuberance in her new friend group. Even when Baby’s actions are immoral or dangerous, Bai delivers on the subtle feelings of joy when one experiences an adrenaline rush. Her performance anchors the film, and it’s impossible to separate her from the role.
Director Jesse Dvorak adds to the film’s dreamlike quality by embracing Baby, Don’t Cry‘s elements of magical realism. Adding additional character makeup and choosing unusual lighting adds ambiguity to the story. The film takes the undeniably subjective perspective of Baby, leading to questions about the narrator’s reliability. In addition, Dvorak heightens the moments of violence and melodrama present on screen, creating questions about the events we witness on screen. While the film’s subjectivity is not apparent at first, Dvorak builds to a climactic ending that recalls Reichart’s River of Grass.
Despite the excellent performance anchoring the film and Dvorak’s skillful direction, Baby, Don’t Cry contains some frustrating elements. While Fox is never depicted as a “good guy” at any point in the film, his actions can be downright scary. Provatakis plays these sequences well, but the writing goes too far in framing him as a problematic partner. It is frankly surprising that Fox never brings Baby to an alt-right rally, given the level of anger on display.
The writing stumbles toward the end of the film. The shift from a bildungsroman to a crime thriller occurs in a matter of minutes. While genre flexibility can help a movie, in this case, it feels like Bai & Dvorak were unsure how to land the plane. The toxicity of the relationship overwhelms the narrative, and the violence becomes pointless. The audience may begin to question why we’ve followed these lovers at all. While the choice to show Baby’s excitement over finding her place can be joyous, the story can also feel aimless.
Baby, Don’t Cry captures a unique experience growing up in America, one that remains underrepresented. However, some narrative plotholes hold back the film from becoming truly great. Nevertheless, there is plenty to appreciate on screen, especially in terms of the direction and performance from Bai. Baby, Don’t Cry makes for an interesting new chapter in its genre, one that hopefully blossoms its talent into success in the future.
GRADE: 6 out of 10
What do you think of Baby, Don’t Cry? Let us know in the comments below! See Baby, Don’t Cry at Fantasia Fest 2021!