The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

MDMA: A non-formulaic debut filled with chemistry

Written by: Adriana Gomez-Weston, CC2K Staff Writer

As the fall film season kicks off, there are is a plethora of exciting features coming out this September. One that stands out is first-time director Angie Wang’s MDMA, a semi-autobiographical drama inspired by Wang’s brief stint as an ecstasy dealer. Following films such as Crazy Rich Asians, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Searching, MDMA offers another refreshing Asian-led movie with the kind of story that hasn’t been seen in the past.

American cinema has a bizarre obsession with drug dealers and their crazy lifestyles and MDMA feeds into it, but by turning stereotypes on their heads MDMA crushes the role of the model minority, providing an emotionally heavy and powerful performance from its lead.

Angie is a brilliant and scrappy student who turns to drug-dealing when her financial aid is cut. Refusing to be a victim of circumstance, Angie comes up with a brilliant way to make additional money. Utilizing her chemistry know-how, lab access, and street smarts, she crafts and sells a new trendy drug called ecstasy. Since MDMA is still new on the scene, it’s not yet illegal to sell or possess. In a short amount of time Angie becomes the most prominent seller of ecstasy on the West coast.

Quick-witted and confident, Angie charms her way through school and gains the attention of men and customers alike. Once facing financial hardship, Angie’s lifestyle now exceeds her peers. While her days are filled with an arduous course load, her nights have champagne, partying, sex, and more drugs.

Annie Q. stars as the the film’s version of Angie Wang. Her performance is raw, and she pours every ounce of herself into it. She brings a likability and charisma to Angie that makes you root for her whether she’s in the right or wrong.

Raised in a strict, working class home in Newark, New Jersey, Angie is accustomed to hardship and turmoil. She faces a different set of obstacles when she relocates to a prestigious San Francisco university. Surrounded mainly by posh rich students, Angie stands out but gains friendship in her roommate Jeanine (Francesca Eastwood). Jeanine and Angie’s friendship is one of the film’s highlights. Although the two have fun together at parties, there is a mutual trust and concern between them.

Francesca Eastwood and Annie Q. have a natural chemistry that works on screen, prompting some authentic interactions. Eastwood gives a fine performance, with a vulnerability and warmness that would make anyone want to be her friend and protect her from harm.

Angie also meets the sweet and encouraging Tommy (Scott Keiji Takeda), who is clearly in love with her. Respectful of Angie, he accepts her friendship and is also an unwilling participate in Angie’s drug business. An employee of the university chemistry lab, Tommy takes a backseat as Angie steals materials and equipment. Seeing the good in her, Tommy tries to convince her to stop. He’s obviously good for Angie, but she’s too “crazy” for him.

Angie is a multidimensional, complicated character who teeters between being the villain and hero in her own story. She’s aware that what she does is wrong, but she’s fueled by the desire for money.  She does bad things but she’s a good person at heart. Angie acts as a Big Sister to a young girl named Bree (Aalyrah Caldwell) who, like Angie, lives a troubled home life. Her mother Anita (Yetide Badaki) is a drug addict who struggles to pay for basic necessities. Sympathetic to Bree, Angie provides her with clothes, food, and other gifts. 

Even though Angie basks in financial spoils, she is greeted with another set of issues. She fails to keep up with her course work due to her nights creating and distributing MDMA and gains enemies due to her hustle and ruthlessness. As her star on the drug underground escalates, she’s forced to reckon with tough life lessons, which includes a major personal loss that alters the course of her life.

MDMA provides a bittersweet ending for its flawed heroine. One good thing that can be taken from MDMA is it doesn’t matter how you start, but how you finish. Despite dreary circumstances, it is always possible to turn your life around. The real Angie Wang and the film Angie prove that. With a home run for her debut film, Wang shows a promising start in her newest venture in the entertainment industry.