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MOVIE REVIEW
Egghead & Twinkie (2023)

It is a bold choice to include a racist slur in your movie’s title, even when the reason for it is a key part of the plot. The main character has reclaimed the name for herself as an attempt to build her identity as a transracial adoptee, which is all the more important because she doesn’t know her own precise ethnic heritage. This is a heavy hook for a lighthearted movie about teenage foolishness and personal identity, but writer-director Sarah Kambe Holland is clearly aiming for a cheerful style to mitigate the slightly gloomy substance. For the most part it works, but the slightly false sweetness can be a little tough to swallow.

Twinkie (Sabrina Jie-A-Fa) was born in Miami and brought up in Dell City, Fla., by conservative white parents (J. Scott Browning and Kelley Mauro), who are not particularly sensitive to her needs. They have spent no time whatsoever ensuring she feels connected to her own ethnicity, and also never noticed she is gay. When she updates them on the news they tell her she’s too young to know this about herself. Fortunately Twinkie possesses the most valuable thing a teenager without a driver’s license can have: an older best friend with a car. This is Egghead (Louis Tomeo), who is shortly off to college and has been in love with Twinkie since elementary school. But Twinkie hardly notices him these days since she is so wrapped up in her Instagram girlfriend, B. D. (Ayden Lee). They chat all the time, and when B. D. invites Twinkie to see her D.J. a club night in Dallas Twinkie absolutely accepts. No big deal she’s underage; they’ll just sneak her into the club! So Twinkie “borrows” her dad’s car – she is not exactly a criminal mastermind, especially since he’s a realtor with his name, face and phone number plastered onto the side of his sedan – and convinces Egghead that a road trip to Dallas is just what they need. So off they go, for age-appropriate bickering in diners and motels along the way.

It’s nice to see times have changed since the mid-’90s, when someone this critic knew, who was also adopted, “borrowed” his dad’s car for a similarly themed road trip. His dad reported the car as stolen and allowed his son to spend a week in jail to reflect on whether his home was a safe place to be and if his parents loved him. That happening to Twinkie would not have been as adorable a movie or brought it to BFI Flare, of course. Instead we have Egghead changing overnight into a rainbow-tutu-wearing ally, discreetly updating Twinkie’s parents by text and coyly suggesting she spend more time with Jess (Asahi Hirano), a friendly waitress in a Chinese restaurant they happen to stop into one afternoon. Jess is bisexual and actually Japanese, but shruggingly aware that her small Southern town is largely indifferent to her accurate identity. She knows who she is, and through her cheerful chat and probing questions starts to get Twinkie thinking a bit more about herself.

Twinkie is also an illustrator working on comic books; and the movie is peppered with drawings (done wonderfully throughout by Jill Cefalo-Sanders) that expand the emotional truths and comment on the action, especially in the diner argument that is the hook for most of the plot. The influence of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” looms large, both structurally and contextually, but neither Olivia Wilson’s cinematography or Ben Thornewill’s music reveal how tight the budget must have been. For the most part we are with Mr. Tomeo, who is a charming nonthreatening guy, a perfect shoulder to cry on, or with Ms. Jie-A-Fa, who has the difficult task of making Twinkie’s naivete and childishness seem hopeful instead of silly or annoying. Pleasingly, she gets it right. Twinkie is a sweet kid who is lucky to have such a good best friend, and also to have met Jess, who might be the romance but is also, obviously, a very good friend. Hopefully the mistake of the title will be one of those silly teenage affectations, like eyebrow piercings or believing everything someone DMs you on Instagram. It shouldn’t put people off from a charming, hopeful movie.

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