by Kayla McCulloch on May 29, 2020

About a decade ago, indie musician and San Francisco native Goh Nakamura decided to take a crack at acting. With Nakamura credited as “Self,” his leading role in Dave Boyle’s Surrogate Valentine (2011) was regarded as an interesting flourish in an otherwise amicable mumblecore entry. Despite middling reviews, Nakamura and Boyle felt there was more to the story they’d set into motion. Nakamura reprised his “role” a year later in Boyle’s Daylight Savings (2012), this time accompanied by his Surrogate Valentine co-star Lynn Chen and two new players: Ayako Fujitani and Yea-Ming Chen. Greeted with the same sort of mostly tepid critical notices, Daylight Savings built on the decision to have Nakamura play a fictional version of himself by setting Yea-Ming Chen to the same task. Although officially a series at this point, it would take Nakamura eight years to turn this pair of ambling semi-autobiographical romantic comedies into a trilogy with I Will Make You Mine.

With series regular Lynn Chen now in the director’s chair, Nakamura’s third outing isn’t all that focused on the musician — at least not directly. This conclusion to the loose narrative that began in Daylight Savings spends its time exploring the women of Nakamura’s life and the long-lasting impact his straight-faced kindliness has had on series co-stars Rachel (Chen), Erika (Fujitani), and Yea-Ming. All have moved on from Goh in their own ways, but to say that the singer is completely absent from their minds would be untrue. Rachel begins her morning softly singing along to one of Nakamura’s old songs, quickly minimizing it as “just some singer” when her husband asks what she’s listening to — but still correcting his pronunciation of Goh’s last name when he reads the title of the video. Erika, separated from Nakamura but sharing custody of their child, expresses her frustration with Goh’s lateness as she prepares to make the arrangements for her father’s funeral. Yea-Ming, a musician herself, writes lyrics about former relationships — like the one she had with Goh — and struggles to find the right words for the yearning ballad she’s working on.

Nakamura has permanently entangled himself with Rachel, Erika, and Yea-Ming. His perpetual aimlessness has rubbed off on the women he’s loved, making his past actions a key component of their present regardless of their current distance from the singer-songwriter. I Will Make You Mine sees Goh drifting once again, in town for Erika’s dad’s funeral and hoping to resolve things with both Rachel and Yea-Ming while he has the chance. Blowing back into their lives may be more trouble than it’s worth, however. Erika’s grief over the loss of her own father is worsened by her unresolved issues with the father of her daughter. Rachel’s marital problems are exacerbated by the appearance of Goh. Yea-Ming’s writer’s block only intensifies when a resurgence of happy feelings get in the way of her sad song. It’s a real mess, and it’s uniquely Nakamura’s fault.

What’s most notable (and noticeable) about I Will Make You Mine is the absence of former series helm Dave Boyle. With Boyle stepping back into a producer role for this third installment, Surrogate Valentine and Daylight Savings co-star Lynn Chen has taken over writing and directing duties. However, although Boyle isn’t behind the camera, his work is still quite integral to Chen’s directorial debut. Clips from the previous two films are littered throughout I Will Make You Mine, newly bestowed with a glossy and idyllic sheen to resemble memories in the minds of the four main characters. They’re always scenes of laughter, joyous moments shared with Nakamura years ago that continue to haunt Rachel, Erika, and Yea-Ming in the present. In addition to being an effective technique on an emotional level, it’s also a useful trick that can bring new viewers unfamiliar with Boyle’s first two films up to speed.

In a way, the films themselves reflect the sticky relationship between Goh and his former lovers. Simply by shifting the focus away from Nakamura and toward the trio of female leads, I Will Make You Mine could easily stand alone with little reference to the two entries that preceded it. Instead, it calls back to Boyle’s work frequently and prominently, unable to shake the once-strong connection that has grown much weaker with time. To be clear, this feels intentional instead of accidental. By adopting Boyle’s black-and-white aesthetic and keeping Nakamura as the composer — while minimizing their more direct authorial involvement — Chen effectively explores the curious phenomenon of clinging to aspects of a relationship long after the breakup.

When a couple falls apart, the thought of picking up the pieces might be a repulsive one. I Will Make You Mine makes a case for gathering up the fragments and incorporating them into who we are going forward. It doesn’t mean you’re hung up on your ex — it means you’re wise enough to know that you’re still you and you were always you, regardless of your attachments. This is the main idea of I Will Make You Mine: the importance of finding yourself in the fallout, refusing to be defined by your former partners, and opting to be mindful of your past self instead. It’s a terrifyingly confrontational thing to do, made all the more daunting because it’s a confrontation with your inner self. Chen pulls it off, however. She goes deep into Boyle’s pair of films, extracts the characters of Rachel, Erika, and Yea-Ming, and allows them to pick up their pieces with Goh in the present day. The end result is both a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy and a self-assured debut for Chen as a writer-director.

Rating: B-

I Will Make You Mine is now available to rent from major online platforms.