By Allan Zhang Tran | Drama
2 best friends ditch school to hang out. But they sense their waning days and friendship.

Ryan and Kev are two best friends who flee high school and skip class, wandering around town and hanging out. They talk about girls, past experiences they've shared, kick around a can like a soccer ball.

But they haven't quite discussed the future, where the pair will go their separate ways to different colleges. Ryan can't wait to leave the San Gabriel Valley where they live and head to Stanford in the fall. But Kev doesn't understand why his friend feels the way he does. When they run into Ryan's crush, Elaine, the underlying differences in temperament and worldview between the two boys widen into a chasm, one that pushes tension to the surface and forces them to make sense of their friendship.

Written and directed by Allan Zhang Tran with a warm, engaging eye and ear for his young characters, this short coming-of-age drama is a seemingly loose, amiable snapshot of two friends facing the precipice of adulthood. But it sharpens into a meditation on the complexities of friendship where feelings of jealousy, vulnerability and betrayal go unsaid but never swim far from the surface.

The writing and direction handle this emotional terrain with great patience and grace, establishing an unhurried pace and understated atmosphere that gives these characters plenty of room to be who they are. It laces moments of visual lyricism reminiscent of Wong Kar-Wai with a slice-of-life naturalism that captures the colors and textures of the San Gabriel Valley, which we experience alongside the pair as they wander about during their skip day. In many ways, the friends are typical teens hanging out and talking smack as they kill time together, suspended in suburbia as they wait for their real lives and selves to begin.

But underneath the jocular rapport are their insecurities, hopes and fears. These drive their choices and behavior, though they can't yet articulate why or how. Actors Bloom Li and Ray Yamamoto as Ryan and Kev, respectively, capture both the distinctive demeanors of their characters, with one being more introverted and the other more outwardly confident. But they both can dig deep into the vulnerabilities and fears of their characters with compelling honesty and authenticity. Their underlying tension boils into outright conflict, which forces everything into the open and alters the tenor of their relationship going forward.

"Valley" ends with a pair of scenes that show the friends in their separate homes, and we get a glimpse of the unique pressures they face, both as young men and as Asian Americans. Together the scenes show just what their friendship offers Ryan and Kev: a space to be themselves. It's a quietly moving conclusion to a film that seems modest and unassuming on the surface but grows richer and more resonant as we spend more time with the characters and understand their inner worlds. Though it has great specificity of character and location, ultimately "Valley" leaves viewers in a thoughtful, wistful space of appreciation for those friends that we grow up with. Even as life takes us to different places, they always retain their affection in our hearts and memories, with an honored part in the story of our lives.

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