Rating: R for language, violence and drug use
Run Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
An Ivy League college figures prominently in Ben’s (Parry Shen) near future. To attain this lofty goal, the brainy high-school junior hits the books, loads up on impressive extra-curriculars, and relentlessly tutors himself on challenging SAT vocabulary. A classic Asian-American overachiever, Ben ultimately tires of the rhythm, and sets out to break the mold.
Breaking out for Ben means hooking up with a friend’s creative scams. It starts innocently enough, with the lucrative sale of cheat sheets. But as the laws of supply and demand begin to reap financial rewards, the stakes escalate to drugs and guns. A sheen of popularity washes over Ben, an untouchable cool that leads to more scams, harder work, and the need for chemical sustenance in order to stay afloat.
“Better” is your standard teen comedy with a bite. Sure, boy meets girl and girl loves someone else, but there’s a hard element of truth to the depiction of the Asian-American struggle to achieve academic perfection. Beautifully performed by Shen and a cast of relative unknowns (Roger Fan, Jason Tobin, and John Cho), “Better” subtly captures the mood of the fast-track contemporary Californian teenager and saturates it with poignant black humor. The rites of passage can be a scary journey, indeed.