Baby Don?t Cry tells the story of Baby (Zita Bai), a 17-year-old Chinese immigrant struggling to survive. Living with her cruel mother and doing menial tasks to pay the bills after school, Baby simply doesn?t seem to fit in. When she meets drug-dealing dropout Fox (Vas Provatakis), her life begins to change. Drawn to his rough exterior and strength, Baby fights to win his respect and a romance begins between them. However, when their inner brokenness begins to surface, the two must decide whether or not their connection is healthy.
Directed by Jesse Dvorak, Baby Don?t Cry is a visceral and difficult look at the immigrant experience and exposes the fallacy of the American Dream. Written by Bai, this is a film which feels personal as it explores the challenges of starting life in an unwelcoming world. What’s more, Bai offers an honest and heartrending performance as Baby. In many ways, Bai offers an uncomfortably authentic portrayal of a young woman trying to find herself. She is awkward, innocent and sexually unaware. Tapping into her own experiences, Bai delivers a quietly powerful performance that allows Baby to show the marks on her soul without ever portraying her as weak in spirit. Instead, Bai ensures that there?s a fire burning within her character, even if others seek to put it out.
Forced to clean toilets in order to pay the bills, Baby always feels like she?s on the outside. New to the country, she struggles to fit in anywhere or make any personal connections. Struggling with the language barrier in school, her fellow students simply label her a ?freak?. Although she works in the homes of the wealthy, she rare sees any respect. With the sting of each verbal abuse, we see her eyes deaden just a little bit more as she falls more hopelessly inside her emotions.
For her, the immigrant experience has been one of loneliness and pain.
Struggling with the trauma of an abusive mother and losing her father, Baby is on a personal quest looking for love and acceptance. Whereas few take the time to notice her, Baby wants to be seen. When she meets Fox, she is immediately taken by his strength and vivacity. However, there is a toxicity to their relationship as well. While there?s a thrill to their ?Bonnie and Clyde? energy, Baby and Fox often bring out the worst in each other. Her pursuit of Fox is never fully requited (or, at least, not in a healthy manner.) Addicted to drugs, fueled by anger and prone to cheating, Fox refuses to be trapped in the proverbial marital henhouse. Even so, there is a powerful connection between them that keeps drawing them back to one another.
In this way, Baby often seems to be looking for some form of safety from a voice that will tell her that she is valuable. In Fox, she believes that?maybe?Fox can fill this need. However, everyone in her life (including Fox) seems to view her as an object to be used. Although Baby feels gives all she has to those around her, she remains an inconvenience to them. As such, there is a sadness and brokenness within this film which bleeds off the screen. Don?t Cry is an example of the suffering endured by many in silence as they attempt to survive on a daily basis. For Baby, hope seems to be elusive and elsewhere.
At the same time, Don?t Cry never loses sight of Baby?s true value. Her life and soul matter, regardless of the selfishness of those around her. With this in mind, despite the viciousness of the world around her, Baby seems understands this quality to the soul. She takes pictures of dead rodents as if to offer them a memorial. She remembers the voice of her father fondly, especially how encouraging he was to her. In moments like these we know that there is something within Baby that recognizes her importance, even if others fail to see it.
Though difficult to watch, Baby, Don?t Cry feels like an important experience for the viewer. Led by a strong performance by Bai, the film provides insight into the challenges of bridging cultures while looking for ways to thrive. Most importantly though, Don?t Cry is a reminder that, regardless of how we are treated by others, we still matter.
To hear our conversation with writer/director/star Zita Bai, click here (YouTube) and here (audio).
Baby, Don?t Cry played at the New Orleans Film Festival on November 10th, 2021 and is currently on the festival circuit.