Review: ‘Olympic Dreams,’ starring Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas

February 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas in “Olympic Dreams” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Olympic Dreams”

Directed by Jeremy Teicher

Culture Representation: Taking place during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, this romantic dramedy is about two white middle-class Americans—a 22-year-old Olympic cross-country skier and a 37-year-old Olympic volunteer dentist—who meet and have an undeniable attraction to each other.

Culture Clash: The potential romance has obstacles, such as the age difference, insecurities about the future, and the dentist being undecided over what to do about his suspended relationship with his fiancée.

Culture Audience: “Olympic Dreams” will appeal primarily to people who like independent movies that are more “slice of life” character studies than action-filled stories.

Alexi Pappas and Nick Kroll in “Olympic Dreams” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

Two socially awkward people meet and have a connection that could turn into a romance. This type of story can take place anywhere, but in the dramedy “Olympic Dreams,” the story takes place on location during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, where the movie was actually filmed during the games. Most of the movie’s cast, except for star Nick Kroll, are real-life Olympic athletes. It adds to the realism of the film, which is shot almost like a documentary.

There is no melodrama in this quiet character study of a movie, and there are no scenes revolving around intense athletic competitions. Instead, “Olympic Dreams” takes a close look at the internal battles of insecurities that can prevent people from pursuing what they really want in life.

Directed by Jeremy Teicher, who co-wrote the screenplay with Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas (a Greek American real-life Olympic long-distance runner), “Olympic Dreams” is the first narrative feature to be filmed inside the Olympic Village, where the athletes stay during the games. This access was made possible by the International Olympic Committee, which invited Pappas and three other Olympians who are also artists to participate in the Olympic Art Project. Pappas’ project was “Olympic Dreams,” and she is one of the producers of the film, along with Kroll, Teicher, Will Rowbotham and Nora May.

In the movie, Pappas plays Olympic cross-country skier Penelope, an American who’s there for her first Olympic games. She’s feeling anxious and isolated, since she doesn’t know anyone there. Meanwhile, Olympic volunteer dentist Ezra (played by Kroll), who’s also American, is feeling a different type of anxiety. He and his fiancée have recently decided to take a break from their relationship. He calls her and leaves an awkward message on her voice mail, by telling her that he doesn’t know if it’s appropriate to call her, but he wanted to tell her anyway that he’s settled in at the Olympic Village.

Ezra meets Penelope when he sees her sitting alone at the Olympic Village dining hall, and he asks if he could join her. She agrees, but Penelope (who’s quiet by nature) is feeling tense over her upcoming race that will happen that day. They make small talk by introducing themselves and saying why they’re at the Olympics, but Nick senses that Penelope is preoccupied and nervous, so he backs off, but not before giving her a dental-floss item as a friendly gesture.

Penelope has a disappointing placement that doesn’t qualify her for the next round. She calls her parents and pretends that she’s been making friends with other athletes who’ve been comforting her over her Olympic loss. In reality, Penelope is all alone. Although her Olympic roommate Maggie (played by real-life Olympic freestyle skier Morgan Schild) is friendly, Penelope hasn’t been able to make any friends in the short time that she’s been at the Olympics.

The next time Penelope and Ezra see each other, he invites her to get coffee with him. This time, he has another gift for her: a stuffed animal. And then they start to open up to each other more when he examines Penelope’s teeth during an appointment that she has with him. He tells her that it was always his dream to be at the Olympics. Back in America, he works at a clinic, but his goal is to one day have his own family practice.

Meanwhile, Penelope confesses that she’s uncertain about her future, now that her Olympic dreams have been dashed this year. She hasn’t decided yet if she wants to try out for the next Olympics in four years or if she wants to do something else with her life. At this point, it’s clear by the way that Penelope looks at Ezra that she’s starting to become romantically attracted to him, because she becomes more flirtatious and she asks him about his relationship status, sexual orientation, and if he has any children. (Ezra is straight and has no kids.)

Ezra also tells her about his fiancée and how the situation is complicated because even though they’re taking a break from each other, he doesn’t think he’s completely available either. Ezra and Penelope also tell each other their ages—he’s 37, and she’s 22—and Ezra looks a little concerned about the age difference, but he’s also feeling attracted to Penelope. They both encourage each other to pursue their dreams.

Although Ezra has a more extroverted personality than Penelope does, he has a nerdy, eager-to-please approach when he first tries to get to know people, so he’s found it difficult to make friends at the Olympic Village too. Penelope and Ezra sense that they’re both social misfits, and that’s part of their attraction to each other. Penelope invites Ezra to spend the day with her to do tourist sightseeing around town, since she now has a lot of free time on her hands, and Ezra readily accepts her offer.

Their first date is extended from a day trip to hanging out a night. Even though Ezra is much older than Penelope, he’s still a kid at heart because one of the places they go to during the nighttime part of the date is a center where people play video games. Ezra comments that watching people intensely play video games reminds him of his lonely youth when he would spend hours playing video games by himself. But Penelope has a different perspective: She says that people with that kind of passion and drive, even if it’s about winning video games, should be admired.

Is the relationship between Ezra and Penelope going to go anywhere? At the end of their first date, Penelope kisses him, but he pulls away. Then they get in an argument because Penelope criticizes him for not knowing what he’s going to do about his fiancée and for being not being more proactive about having his own family practice, while he criticizes her for being undecisive about her future. They end the date on this sour note.

Feeling a little down, Penelope’s confidence gets a boost when she meets a fellow Olympic athlete at the gym. He’s an American freestyle skier named Gus (played by real-life Olympic freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy), who introduces himself and invites Penelope to a party that’s being held in his building. Gus and Penelope start hanging out with each other, and when Penelope introduces Gus to Nick, it’s obvious that Nick is uncomfortable and jealous.

Much of the dialogue in “Olympic Dreams” looks improvised, since there are realistic awkward moments of silence or people talking over each other. Even though this movie takes place during the giant spectacle of the Olympics, it feels like a very intimate movie because the cast is so small and because there are no scenes of the massive crowds watching the games. There’s a scene that was filmed near an Olympic ski jump and a pivotal scene in an empty stadium that serve as reminders of the Olympic setting.

“Olympic Dreams” director Teicher used a hand-held camera and many close-ups in the scenes to covey the feeling of the movie being a portrait about these two people in a specific time in their lives. Although Ezra and Penelope are both American, it isn’t said in the movie exactly where they live in the United States.

And that leaves some lingering questions: If they get together, what happens if they live in cities that are very far away from each other? Will they have a long-distance relationship or will one of them move closer to the other? And do Ezra and Penelope think this relationship is worth pursuing in the first place? That last question is answered by the end of the movie, which makes it clear that the real Olympic dreams for Ezra and Penelope are the ones that can last longer than an athletic competition.

IFC Films released “Olympic Dreams” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on February 14, 2020.

2020 Academy Awards: ‘Parasite’ is the top winner and makes Oscar history

February 9, 2020

by Carla Hay

“Parasite” cast and filmmakers at the 92nd Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on February 9, 2020. (Photo by Craig Sjodin/ABC)

As the first non-English-language film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, the South Korean drama “Parasite” made Oscar history at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards, which took place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on February 9, 2020. ABC had the U.S. telecast of the show. “Parasite,” which takes a scathing look at the class and social divisions between those who are wealthy and those who are not, also won the Oscars for Best Director (for Bong Joo Ho), Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film.

“Parasite” is the first movie since 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire” to win Best Picture without any nominations in the actor/actress categories. It’s also the first time that Asian filmmakers have won in the categories for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. In addition, “Parasite” is the first movie to win the Oscars for Best International Feature (formerly titled Best Foreign-Language Film) and Best Picture in the same year. “Parasite” is also the first South Korean film to be nominated for Best International Feature and for Best Picture. Leading up to its Academy Awards victories, “Parasite” won the most awards of any movie released in 2019, including the Palme d’Or (the top prize) at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where the movie had its world premiere.

Oscar winners in the acting categories were Joaquin Phoenix of “Joker” for Best Actor; Renée Zellweger of “Judy” for Best Actress; Brad Pitt of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” for Best Supporting Actor; and Laura Dern of “Marriage Story” for Best Supporting Actress. Phoenix, Zellweger, Pitt and Dern been winning prizes in these categories at other major awards shows this season. Phoenix is the second actor to win an Oscar for playing DC Comics villain The Joker. Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his Joker performance in 2008’s “The Dark Knight.”

With 11 Oscar nominations, “Joker” was the leading contender going into the ceremony, and the movie ended up winning two: In addition to Best Actor, “Joker” also won for Best Original Score. The World War I drama “1917” won three Oscars—all in the technical categories: Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects. The 1960s auto-racing drama “Ford v Ferrari” was also a multiple Oscar winner, taking two: Best Film Editing and Best Sound Editing. The mobster drama “The Irishman,” which had 10 Oscar nominations, ended up winning no Academy Awards, in the biggest shut-out of the ceremony.

For the second year in a row, there was no host for the Oscar ceremony. The show opened with a performance by Janelle Monáe doing a version of the “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” theme, before being joined by Billy Porter on stage for Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” and then going solo again for the rest of the performance.

There were no controversial publicity stunts or major errors. A few of the Oscar winners—particularly Pitt and Phoenix—expressed their opinions about political and social issues during their acceptance speeches. Pitt made it clear how he felt about the result of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, which ended February 5 with the majority of the U.S. Senate acquitting Trump. Pitt said: “They told me I only had 45 seconds this year, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave [proposed trial witness] John Bolton this week. I’m thinking maybe Quentin [Tarantino] does a movie about it. In the end, the adults do the right thing.”

Phoenix (a longtime animal-rights activist and environmentalist) spoke out about the need for people to go vegan and to have more respect for the earth’s natural resources: “We go into the natural world, and we plunder it for its resources … But human beings, at our best, are so inventive and creative and ingenious, and I think that when we use love and compassion as our guiding principles, we can create, develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and to the environment.”

One of the ceremony’s biggest surprises was Eminem performing his Oscar-winning song “Lose Yourself” from the 2002 movie “8 Mile,” with his on-stage performance serving as a transition from a tribute montage about how songs can transform movies. When Eminem won the Oscar in 2003, he did not attend the ceremony, so this performance (which had many censor “bleeps”) took place 17 years after it could have first happened.

Elton John, Cynthia Erivo, Idina Menzel, Chrissy Metz and Randy Newman each performed their Oscar-nominated tunes for Best Original Song. The Oscar went to John and his longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from the Elton John musical biopic “Rocketman.” Meanwhile, Billie Eilish performed the Beatles classic “Yesterday” for the “In Memoriam” tribute segment dedicated to people in the movie industry who passed away since the previous Oscar ceremony.

In addition, the show featured a special appearance by Questlove. Eímear Noone did a guest-conductor segment for all the hyear’s Oscar-nominated film scores. She was the first woman to conduct during an Oscars telecast.

Presenters included, Mahershala Ali, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Zazie Beetz, Timothée Chalamet, Olivia Colman, James Corden, Penélope Cruz, Beanie Feldstein, Will Ferrell, Jane Fonda, Gal Gadot, Zack Gottsagen, Salma Hayek, Mindy Kaling, Diane Keaton, Regina King, Shia LaBeouf, Brie Larson, Spike Lee, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, George MacKay, Rami Malek, Steve Martin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ray Romano, Anthony Ramos, Keanu Reeves, Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph, Mark Ruffalo, Kelly Marie Tran, Sigourney Weaver, Kristen Wiig and Rebel Wilson.

Here is the complete list of winners and nominations for the 2020 Academy Awards:

*=winner

Best Picture

Choi Woo-sik, Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin and Park So-dam in “Parasite” (Photo courtesy of Neon Entertainment)

“Ford v Ferrari”
Producers: Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and James Mangold

“The Irishman”
Producers: Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Emma Tillinger Koskoff

“Jojo Rabbit”
Producers: Carthew Neal and Taika Waititi

“Joker”
Producers: Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper and Emma Tillinger Koskoff

“Little Women”
Producer: Amy Pascal

“Marriage Story”
Producers: Noah Baumbach and David Heyman

“1917”
Producers: Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren and Callum McDougall

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Producers: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh and Quentin Tarantino

“Parasite”*
Producers: Kwak Sin Ae and Bong Joon Ho

Best Actor

Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker” (Photo by Niko Tavernise)

Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”*
Jonathan Pryce, “The Two Popes”

Best Actress

Renée Zellweger in “Judy” (Photo by David Hindley/LD Entertainment/Roadside Attractions)

Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”
Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”
Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”
Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”
Renee Zellweger, “Judy”*

Best Supporting Actor

Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Photo by Andrew Cooper)

Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”
Al Pacino, “The Irishman”
Joe Pesci, “The Irishman”
Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”*

Best Supporting Actress

Laura Dern in “Marriage Story” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Kathy Bates, “Richard Jewell”
Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”*
Scarlett Johansson, “Jojo Rabbit”
Florence Pugh, “Little Women”
Margot Robbie, “Bombshell”

Best Director

Bong Joo Ho on the set of “Parasite” (Photo courtesy of Neon Entertainment)

Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”
Todd Phillips, “Joker”
Sam Mendes, “1917”
Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite”*

Best Animated Feature

“Toy Story 4” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar)

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” directed by Dean DeBlois; produced by Bradford Lewis and Bonnie Arnold

“I Lost My Body,” directed by Jérémy Clapin; produced by Marc du Pontavice

“Klaus,” directed and produced by Sergio Pablos; produced by Jinko Gotoh and Marisa Román

“Missing Link,” directed by Chris Butler; produced by Arianne Sutner and Travis Knight

“Toy Story 4,” directed by Josh Cooley; produced by Mark Nielsen and Jonas Rivera*

Best Animated Short

“Hair Love” (Photo courtesy of Matthew A. Cherry Entertainment)

“Dcera,” directed and produced by Daria Kashcheeva
“Hair Love,” directed and produced by Matthew A. Cherry; produced by Karen Rupert Toliver*
“Kitbull,” directed by Rosana Sullivan; produced by Kathryn Hendrickson
“Memorable,” directed by Bruno Collet; produced by Jean-François Le Corre
“Sister,” directed and produced by Siqi Song

Best Adapted Screenplay

Roman Griffin Davis, Taika Waititi and Scarlett Johansson in “Jojo Rabbit” (Photo by Kimberley French)

“The Irishman,” Steven Zaillian
“Jojo Rabbit,” Taika Waititi*
“Joker,” Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
“Little Women,” Greta Gerwig
“The Two Popes,” Anthony McCarten

Best Original Screenplay

Lee Sun Gyun and Cho Yeo-jeong in “Parasite” (Photo courtesy of Neon Entertainment)

“Knives Out,” Rian Johnson
“Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach
“1917,” Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino
“Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho and Jin Won Han*

Best Cinematography

George MacKay (center) in “1917” (Photo by François Duhamel / Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures)

“The Irishman,” Rodrigo Prieto
“Joker,” Lawrence Sher
“The Lighthouse,” Jarin Blaschke
“1917,” Roger Deakins*
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Robert Richardson

Best Documentary Feature

Wong He, Kenny Taylor and Jarred Gibson in “American Factory” (Photo by Aubrey Keith/Netflix)

“American Factory,” directed and produced by Julia Rieichert and Steven Bognar; produced by Jeff Reichert*

“The Cave,” directed by Feras Fayyad; produced by Kirstine Barfod and Sigrid Dyekjær

“The Edge of Democracy,” directed and produced by Petra Costa; produced by Joanna Natasegara, Shane Boris and Tiago Pavan

“For Sama,” directed and produced by Waad Al-Kateab; directed by Edward Watts

“Honeyland,” directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubo Stefanov; produced by Atanas Georgiev

Best Documentary Short Subject

“Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone (If You’re a Girl)” (Photo by Lisa Rinzler)

“In the Absence,” directed and produced by Yi Seung-Jun; produced by Gary Byung-Seok Kam

“Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl),” directed by Carol Dysinger; produced by Elena Andreicheva*

“Life Overtakes Me,” directed and produced by Kristine Samuelson; directed by John Haptas

“St. Louis Superman,” directed and produced by Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan

“Walk Run Cha-Cha,” directed by Laura Nix; produced by Colette Sandstedt

Best Live Action Short Film

“The Neighbors’ Window” (Photo by Wolfgang Held)

“Brotherhood,” directed and produced by Meryam Joobeur; produced by Maria Gracia Turgeon

“Nefta Football Club,” directed and produced by Yves Piat; produced by Damien Megherbi

“The Neighbors’ Window,” directed and produced by Marshall Curry*

“Saria,” directed by Bryan Buckley; produced by Matt Lefebvre

“A Sister,” directed and produced by Delphine Girard

Best International Feature Film

Choi Woo-sik and Park So-dam in “Parasite” (Photo courtesy of Neon Entertainment)

“Corpus Christi,” directed by Jan Komasa (Poland)
“Honeyland,” directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubo Stefanov (North Macedonia)
“Les Misérables,” directed by Ladj Ly (France)
“Pain and Glory,” directed by Pedro Almodóvar (Spain)
“Parasite,” directed by Bong Joon Ho (South Korea)*

Best Film Editing

Matt Damon and Christian Bale in “Ford v Ferrari” (Photo by Merrick Morton)

“Ford v Ferrari,” Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland*
“The Irishman,” Thelma Schoonmaker
“Jojo Rabbit,” Tom Eagles
“Joker,” Jeff Groth
“Parasite,” Jinmo Yang

Best Sound Editing

Christian Bale in “Ford v Ferrari” (Photo by Merrick Morton)

“Ford v Ferrari,” Don Sylvester*
“Joker,” Alan Robert Murray
“1917,” Oliver Tarney, Rachel Tate
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Wylie Stateman
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” Matthew Wood and David Acord

Best Sound Mixing

Cast and crew members on the set of “1917” (Photo by François Duhamel/Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures)

“Ad Astra,” Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson and Mark Ulano
“Ford v Ferrari,” Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Steven A. Morrow
“Joker,” Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic and Tod Maitland
“1917,” Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson*
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler and Mark Ulano

Best Production Design

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Photo by Andrew Cooper)

“The Irishman”
Production Design: Bob Shaw; Set Decoration: Regina Graves

“Jojo Rabbit”
Production Design: Ra Vincent; Set Decoration: Nora Sopková

“1917”
Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Lee Sandales

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”*
Production Design: Barbara Ling; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

“Parasite”
Production Design: Lee Ha Jun; Set Decoration: Cho Won Woo

Best Original Score

Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker” (Photo by Niko Tavernise)

“Joker,” Hildur Guðnadóttir*
“Little Women,” Alexandre Desplat
“Marriage Story,” Randy Newman
“1917,” Thomas Newman
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” John Williams

Best Original Song

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from “Toy Story 4,” song written by Randy Newman

“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from “Rocketman,” song written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin*

“I’m Standing With You” from “Breakthrough,” song written by Diane Warren

“Into the Unknown” from “Frozen 2,” song written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson Lopez

“Stand Up” from “Harriet,” song written by Cynthia Erivo and Joshuah Brian Campbell

Best Makeup and Hair Styling

Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie in “Bombshell” (Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle)

“Bombshell,” Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker*
“Joker,” Nicki Ledermann and Kay Georgiou
“Judy,” Jeremy Woodhead
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten and David White
“1917,” Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis and Rebecca Cole

Best Costume Design

Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan and Emma Watson in “Little Women” (Photo by Wilson Webb)

”The Irishman,” Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson
“Jojo Rabbit,” Mayes C. Rubeo
“Joker,” Mark Bridges
“Little Women,” Jacqueline Durran*
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Arianne Phillips

Best Visual Effects

George MacKay in “1917” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures)

“Avengers: Endgame,” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken and Dan Sudick

“The Irishman,” Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser and Stephane Grabli

“1917,” Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler and Dominic Tuohy*

“The Lion King,” Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Elliot Newma

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach and Dominic Tuohy

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘House of Hummingbird’

May 5, 2019

by Carla Hay

Jihu Park in “House of Hummingbird” (Photo courtesy of Epiphany Films)

“House of Hummingbird” (“Beol-sae”)

Directed by Bora Kim

Korean with subtitles

North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

Very few feature films can be praised as accurately depicting the angst of being a 13-year-old girl. Bo Burnham’s 2018 comedy “Eighth Grade” is one of them. Catherine Hardwicke’s 2003 dark drama “Thirteen” is another. And here’s another to add to the list: writer/director Bora Kim’s beautifully made, introspective feature-film debut “House of Hummingbird,” a semi-autobiographical drama set in 1994 Seoul, South Korea. “House of Hummingbird” does not have the social-media-driven humor of “Eighth Grade” or the dangerous, self-destructive behavior of “Thirteen,” but it conveys a similar spirit that shows how feelings of insecurity and social pressures can eat away at a young girl’s confidence. Carried by an admirable performance by Jihu Park, “House of Hummingbird” is a deliberately paced film that builds up to a conclusion that transforms several of the characters in the story.

Being a 13-year-old in eighth grade is a tricky age for a girl. She’s going through puberty, and might be thinking about dating—but, depending on her family and peers, she might be considered too young to date people her age. She’s old enough to go to places without adult supervision, but she’s not old enough to drive. And 13 is an age when most people are preparing themselves for high school, which is the time in many people’s lives where they have to make decisions that impact their futures as adults.

In “House of Hummingbird,” Park portrays Eunhee, a slightly rebellious teen who loves spending time with her friends, going to karaoke bars, and occasionally getting into mischief, such as shoplifting. Her parents own a rice cake shop, and she’s sometimes made to feel socially inferior because of her family’s working-class economic status. At home in their crowded urban apartment, Eunhee is often unhappy. Her older brother Dae-Hoon (played by Son Sang-yeon), who is the favored child because he is a boy, bullies her by secretly hitting her for no good reason. Her stressed-out parents (played by Lee Seung-yeon and Jung In-gi) frequently argue with each other. And her older sister Suhee (played by Bak Su-yeon) is so passive that she tries to make herself invisible and isn’t much of a friend to Eunhee. All of the kids sometimes chip in to work at the family shop, but Eunhee doesn’t like it and thinks she can have a better life for herself. She doesn’t really know yet how she’s going to accomplish that, although she dreams of being a cartoonist.

At the cram school where Eunhee is a student, she finds an intriguing role model in a new teacher named Yong-ji (played Saebyuk Kim), who is more independent-minded than the other female teachers at the school. It’s the kind of school where a teacher will make the students chant that they won’t do karaoke and will go to Seoul University, and students are told to anonymously write down the names of other students who are being delinquent. Yong-ji encourages Eunhee to follow her dreams and to find a way to respect herself, even if the people around her don’t show Eunhee respect. As her admiration for Yong-ji grows, Eunhee finds reasons to spend time with her teacher outside of the classroom. In a letter that Eunhee writes to Yong-ji later in the movie, she asks a question that sums up her teenage feelings of uncertainty: “When will my life shine?”

Meanwhile, Eunhee tentatively gets closer to a male friend named Jiwan (played by Jeong Yun-se), and their innocent flirting turns into hand holding and then awkward experimenting with French kissing. Eunhee keeps her budding romance a secret from her family, since she doesn’t want to get in trouble for being considered too wild. Eunhee and her best friend Jisuk (played by Park Seo-yun ) get caught shoplifting, and they have a disagreement over whether or not to offer an apology to the store owner. Jisuk wants to apologize, but Eunhee does not, and the disagreement ends their friendship. During all of this personal drama, Eunhee finds out that there’s a lump on her upper neck that needs to be removed because it’s near a salivary gland. The operation might leave a scar, and there’s a chance that her face might be paralyzed.

Much of “House of Hummingbird” might be a little too slow-paced for movie audiences who are used to films about teens that have a lot of snappy dialogue and a constant stream of misadventures. “House of Hummingbird” takes a more realistic approach of showing some of the boredom that comes with being a stifled teenager. However, the last 30 minutes of this 138-minute film have a series of unforgettable events where Eunhee has a powerful awakening that she least expects, even if it comes at an emotional cost.

UPDATE: Well Go USA Entertainment will release “House of Hummingbird” on a date to be announced.