As a delivery person for her mother’s down-market Chinese restaurant, Tera Wong would be considered an essential worker in 2020 parlance. Her side gig ferrying drugs did not make many state essential services lists, but her boss’s customers consider it essentially essential. Unfortunately, drug delivery is not the sort of sideline she can easily walk away from in Hisonni Johnson’s Take Out Girl, which screens virtually as part of the 2020 NY African Diaspora International Film Festival.
Wong’s mother Wavy is literally working herself to death, so she drops out of high school to work at the restaurant, even though she hates it there. Usually, her wannabe gangster brother Saren handles the deliveries, but on a day when they are slammed with orders, she makes a run to a particularly iffy customer. That would be Lalo, a fairly big-time drug dealer, who makes no attempt to conceal the product his crew is packing. The gangster gives her a generous tip, because he is impressed when she stands her ground. Nonetheless, he is genuinely surprised when she returns a few weeks later, offering her delivery services.
As an Asian teen, Wong never attracts the cops’ attention and she has a perfect justification for driving around sketchy neighborhoods at night. Of course, we know things can’t be that simple. Nate, her nice-guy ex-con potential love interest, eventually tells her his own cautionary story, but by that time, she is already in too deep.
Johnson and Hedy Wong, his co-screenwriter-lead, tell a gritty story about crime and the grinding frustration of just barely getting by. It is touch-and-go for Wavy Wong’s family restaurant during the film’s pre-Covid days. Just imagine how much difficult it would be for them if they could only open for 50% capacity. Regardless, they do not sugarcoat the implications of Wong’s decisions (despite throwing a few third act contrivances at us).
Tera Wong is terrific as the titular delivery worker. We get her rage and frustration, but she also brings fuller, subtler dimensions to her namesake. Indeed, her awkward courtship scenes with Dijon Talton (as Nate) are some of the film’s best. He impresses too, while Lynna Yee is absolutely heartbreaking as long-suffering Mother Wavy.
Take Out Girl bears a resemblance to Clint Eastwood’s Mule and Angie Wang’s MDMA (a.k.a. Cardinal X), in terms of its themes and its narrative arc. It is also of comparable quality—and those two previous films were quite good. Arguably, the stakes are higher in Johnson’s film, because the circumstances are meaner and more personal. Recommended for anyone who appreciates a good indie drug-world thriller, Take Out Girl screens virtually today through Sunday (12/13), as part of this year’s ADIFF.