Mixtape Movie Review: Simple, sweet and endearing, if not altogether original
Though the premise is unoriginal, this disarmingly endearing narrative of teenage discovery may have you smiling by the end of it
Set in the time of cassettes, still-functional record stores, Napster and the mass hysteria of Y2K, Mixtape makes a fair case for a feel-good watch. What the film lacks in novelty, it more than makes up for with an earnest portrayal of teenage discovery. Young Beverly knows next to nothing about her purportedly cool parents. They passed in an accident when she was two, and her legal guardian grandmother isn’t one to reminisce about her lost daughter. Not because she doesn’t care, she just wishes for a different fate for her bright and hopeful granddaughter; the thing is, she and her daughter were both teenage mothers. In this quest to instil stability, postal worker Gail (Julie Bowen) is overly-cautious and overprotective, not to mention, tight-lipped about the years gone by. Beverly is itching to know more about her parents beyond the lone photographs she has in her possession. Would she grow up to be cool like them? Would they like and accept the person she is if they were to meet her today? As her questions multiply, she happens to chance upon a mixtape made by her folks. Could this unexpected find provide her with some much-needed answers?
Director – Valerie Weiss
Cast – Gemma Brooke Allen, Julie Bowen, Nick Thune, Audrey Hsieh, Olga Petsa
Streaming On – Netflix
The film is endearing. The acting backs up a somewhat clichéd premise. Why do all children fronting a narrative like this have to be outsiders in school, so to speak? Beverly gets borderline-bullied by a classmate in a wheelchair and his sidekick friend. She gets repeatedly teased by a large group of kids when her grandmother drops her off in her USPS mail van every day. She is a bit diffident, despite possessing a high degree of intelligence. She has a penchant for poetry. This mould is all too common in such teenage discovery stories. It is portrayed realistically, no doubt, but the fact that it follows a tried-and-tested formula makes things too predictable. Anti (Nick Thune), the grumpy and antisocial record store owner who reluctantly assists Beverly in her quest to find out who her parents really were (the tape providing a brief window into their lives), is especially funny. His deadpan delivery, sarcasm and staying true to his nickname (even his store is called Anti Matters Records) in every aspect of life is Mixtape’s comedic highpoint. Anti’s ‘I don’t like people, especially teenage kids’ vibe is evidently hilarious as Beverly annoyingly browbeats him into helping her. It’s an unlikely bond shared by the two characters – an ebullient teenager looking for answers and a borderline misanthropic record store owner disinterested with the world at large except music – something that works in the film’s favour.
Beverly’s newly formed friendships in Ellen (Audrey Hsieh) and Nicky (Olga Petsa) make the trio odd ones out, but who cares? Ellen and Beverly are more similar, being bookish and diffident, while Nicky is the school’s resident badass, exhibiting strong punk rocker vibes. The film scores points through its soundtrack, as the three teenage girls (assisted by the ever-reluctant Anti) attempt to decode each song of the mixtape played in its original order. At the outset, Anti informs a clueless Beverly how such a tape works; “a message from the maker”, and that it must be heard in the right order for it to be understood. From punk to hard rock and a ballad thrown in for good measure, it is Mixtape’s OST that pays homage to some iconic tracks. The list includes such numbers as Getting Nowhere Fast (Girls at Our Best), Linda Linda (Blue Hearts), I Got a Right (The Stooges), Teacher’s Pet (The Quick) and a live rendition of the evergreen Dancing in the Moonlight. The music fits seamlessly into the narrative, adding to Mixtape’s endearing quality.
Beneath the film’s cheerful demeanour, there is grief and heartache hiding in plain sight. Gail is on edge, most of the time. The handling of her granddaughter is reflective of that fact. When she isn’t working, she is busy tallying finances to fund Beverly’s college education someday. Her refusal to speak about the daughter she lost young has more to do with unresolved grief and less to do with not caring. She wishes for Beverly an altogether different fate.
All things considered, Mixtape is a rather watchable narrative. Even if not all that original, it hits the right notes emotionally. Disarmingly sweet, Beverly’s journey from an outsider at school to the discovery of her parents’ mixtape to an unlikely punk rock gig with her kooky friends (being chaperoned by the anti-everything Anti, no less), the film’s simplicity is its strength. Could it have been better? Sure! Is it worth watching, regardless? Definitely!