The rom-com genre has long been overly dominated by schmaltzy teen flicks and a glut of early twenties meet cutes. Indeed, it’s only been in the last decade that OAPs have begun to take centre stage with late in life love stories such as It’s Complicated [Nancy Meyers, USA, 2009] and Le Week-End [Roger Mitchell, UK, 2013]. But what about before all that? In Sixth Grade, writer and director Yuzhuo Wang explores the tender affection of a first ever romance.
Gege Zhou (played by Xinyi Shan) and Wanli Ma (Xingyu Han) are two primary schoolers doing their utmost to stay together against the wishes of Gege’s parents, who want to move to a more prestigious neighbourhood.
The storyline is charming in its simplicity: the two children devise plan after to plan to stop Gege from moving away. From letting hamsters run riot during a flat viewing to eloping on a school day, their antics are as funny as they are innocent, or perhaps funny as a result of their innocence. The concise script and the flawless acting of both Shan and Han aid this effortless humour. Lines such as ‘this is so-called symbolism’ and ‘we are supposed to say something sentimental’ are delivered with a sincerity that would be cheesy in the mouths of adults but are delightfully whimsical from children. Similarly, the solemnity with which Gege and Wanli collect hamsters or hold hands through a cackling mob of school kids - as if they were nineteenth century courtiers - gives the short the wholesome humour that makes it such a success.
In contrast, Gege’s parents seem totally devoid of fun. Their insistence that a primary school child focus on her university education already has all the ridiculousness of the children’s mischief but with none of the charm. A dinner time argument leads to tension which perhaps could be better expressed with slightly less wooden acting from Jing Feng and Bei Li, who play the mother and father respectively. Or perhaps their rigidity is integral to their characters in contrast to the unselfconscious emotions of the children.
Putting children centre stage certainly works wonders in Sixth Grade. The combination of a script that cracks jokes without trying and the winning onscreen presence of Shan and Han make this film well worth watching, whatever your age.
'Sixth Grade' was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2020.