20th Century Girl movie review: A walk down memory lane
In the digital era, where everyone is a click away, it is easy to forget the simpler times of the 90s
In the digital era, where everyone is a click away, it is easy to forget the simpler times of the 90s. To that end, 20th Century Girl is a walk down memory lane. In the film, a VCR tape of the 90s’ erotic thriller takes Na Bo-Ra (Kim Yoo-Jung) on a trip into the past—and through it, takes us back to a time when pagers were cool, e-mails were advanced technology, and Y2K problem was a serious concern.
Na Bo-ra and Kim Yeon-du (Roh Yoon-Seo) are best friends, with the latter forced to go to the US for heart surgery, but then, just before leaving, she falls in love with Baek Hyun-jin (Park Jung-woo). Baek goes to the same school, and Bo-ra promises Kim that she will find out all that she can about him.
Through this sleuthing, we also meet Hyun-Jin’s best friend Poong Woon-ho (Byeon Woo-Seok), and the story unravels into Bo-ra figuring out her own love life while helping Yeon-du’s romantic aspirations.
So, how far is someone prepared to go for a friend’s love and friendship? 20th Century Girl is a heartfelt exploration of such questions, and Bo-ra’s character reminds us of the naiveté of school life, a time when you believed that all relationships were forever.
While these characters sink into nostalgia, so do we, as the film gets us reflecting on lost innocence and forgotten joys. The high school love story comes with its share of twists and turns that are rather predictable, but nevertheless, the actors and the setting make it refreshing.
20th Century Girl is a template rom-com, but having a woman writer ensures that the high-school girls in this film don’t come across as caricatures. The students act their age, with dialogues never seeming out of place. You see them standing in line for payphones, sending photos through letters, and having their first drink during a school night out.
Director-writer Bang Woo-ri even manages to bring in the railway station version of the classic airport end scene. It is all fun and smiles till a random twist towards the end brings a surprising change of emotions. While the ending seems jolting, everything that precedes is the equivalent of a cool evening breeze.
As we watch Na Bo-ra’s tumultuous first love, her steadfast friendship, her understanding of ever-evolving priorities, and her transformation from a chirpy schoolgirl into an adult, it’s hard not to remember our own transformations, putting a wistful smile on our faces.