An Asian American boy confronts his feelings for his older brother's girlfriend.
Left behind by the same person, young teen Abe and the cool older girl Ella try to keep themselves entertained in their small Midwestern town, but grapple in different ways with their mutual loss.
But a game of teenage hijinks goes quietly awry, bringing the two together in an unexpected way, and forging an unexpected connection — one that helps them overcome their pain and loneliness.
Writer-director Dan Chen’s study of teenage life in the middle of America is a contemporary story rendered in a timeless, even nostalgic way. The loose, wandering feel of the camera and storytelling feel like an American film classic of the 1970s, but having two leads of Asian American descent is a very modern move, though the film acknowledges their race with a light, even offhand manner.
One of the film’s immediate strengths is its intimate, emotional atmosphere, focusing on small gestures, glances and moments that ultimately gain significance as the story progresses. The cinematography is burnished, dreamy and even elegiac in feel.
“Ella” is a quiet story that charts the slow unfolding of a new chapter of an unexpected friendship. Restrained yet expressive, it’s ultimately a sweet and hopeful film, one that earns its good feeling with honesty and craft, capturing the quicksilver emotions of being a teenager: the fear of being alone and isolated, but the wonder of finding a new connection when you least expect it.
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