The peaks and valleys of emotions spurting with the fickle rhythm of adolescence are treated mindfully in Netflix’s surprisingly balanced Indonesian teenage drama Dear David. If you understand why it is surprising to be gifted with a sensible representation of teenagers on Netflix, I would rather not harp on the already overstated criticisms of the platform’s similar endeavors. But even for those who usually don’t mind indulging in the exploitative and hyperbolized depictions of teenage, Dear David’s level-headed approach will most likely work because when all is said and done, they have churned out a pretty decent film.

Despite ironing out some rather serious issues very conveniently, Dear David, for the most part, is gentle with the pulsating troubles that brew unnoticed in the most formative years. While purposefully diving into the causes and effects of a distinct set of concerns, the film shrewdly avoids biting off more than it can chew. All we are guided through are the specific problems that fester over a straight-A student’s fantasy fiction falling into the wrong hands and becoming public knowledge. The can of worms that opens with the wildfire-paced spread of the pornographic chronicles, in turn, brings to light a lot of buried emotions that need a sympathetic outlet.

Dear David (2023) Plot Summary and Movie Synopsis:

Laras is harboring more than a little secret crush. Practically obsessed with her friend/schoolmate/church brethren David, Laras’ overactive, teenage sensuality has established a safe refuge in her secret erotica. Her blooming sexual curiosities dream up a world in which she is an all-powerful, mystical queen, and David is her treasured boy toy. She is only slightly disheartened to come back to the bleak, proletarian realities where her mother has worked extra hard to make ends meet since her father left, and Laras contributes by earning a scholarship. A faithful Christian and a devoted student body president, Laras’ skirt hangs longer than that of her peers, and prudish anxieties affect her relationship with her changing body.

Laras’ connection with her best-friend Dilla suffered a complete termination since cruel rumors slut-shaming the latter spread amongst their peers. Dilla prefers to keep to herself and doesn’t feel the urge to confront her hopeless bullies. When a picture of her and David is taken out of context and distributed by the signature dim jock Arya, jealous Laras finds a productive means to channel her frustration through a new chapter in her “Dear David” erotica.

She, however, makes the mistake of releasing her angered creativity in her school’s computer and fails to log out before leaving. Luckily for Laras, the anonymous chronicles don’t get traced back to her even when they get leaked and go viral. Unluckily, the girl who is already condemned for being the bull’s eye in a previous pornographic rumor and gets shamed for dressing up the way she wants, Dilla is suspected of having written the erotica.

Being the star of the soccer team hasn’t had much of an effect on the otherwise sensitive David. He was hardly noticed, and he preferred to retain his invisibility. Ambushed by a sudden burst of unwelcome attention and unwarranted objectification, David breaks down in secret. When he does look through the viral narrative, it doesn’t take David long to conclude that Laras is the author.

Confirming his speculation when she is questioned, Laras apologizes for the distress she has caused and promises to do anything he wants to make up for her transgression. David compels her to help him get close to Dilla, the girl he is hopelessly in love with but can’t seem to get through to. Keeping her own feelings for him buried in her aching heart, Laras agrees to help him get the girl of his dreams.

It isn’t easy for Laras to mend the bridge she once stopped walking. Try as she might, atoning for abandoning the girl who used to be her best friend isn’t easy for Laras, who struggles to convince Dilla to give her a second chance. But it doesn’t take her more than a day of playing hooky and being rewarded with a few hours of scrubbing the school toilet to prove to Dilla that she is truly remorseful.

Rejuvenating the long-dormant friendship, the two spend days and nights doing all they did before their sad fallout. In Dilla’s affectionate eyes, there are, however, traces of something more than platonic love. She melts down, mourning the pain she felt not having her only friend by her side when the rumors started by Arya subjected her to vicious bullying and isolation. Laras, on the other hand, is planning a faux study group to get David closer to Dilla and save her own back.

Dear David

Dilla eventually sees right through Laras’ sneaky agenda. Pained by the thought of her friend having an ulterior motive, Dilla gives into the bitterness she feels and flirts with David to make Laras jealous. The poor girl can’t seem to catch a break as everything around her conspires to make her life increasingly difficult. Another story breaking out falsely incriminates Dilla and makes her out to be the writer of the erotica.

Suspended from school, Dilla spends her miserable days in the safety of her secluded room. But at the same time, not taking back her agency appears to be impossible for the girl who is judged unfairly for merely living her life. Bold Dilla crashes the school’s soccer game and kisses David in front of shocked gazes as a necessary f-you to the school’s despicable misogynistic predispositions. What that kiss leads to, however, is an uncomfortable attempt at intimacy where all Dilla can do to feel aroused is to have him repeat the nickname that Laras calls her by.

On a church retreat, David attempts to have a heart-to-heart with Laras, who would rather maintain a safe distance to protect her devastated heart. When she finds David hyperventilating because of a panic attack, she is asked to tell a story to comfort him. As it always is with the eruptive tendencies of love, Laras’ feelings find a veiled expression through the story she tells him.

The trip epitomizes the perfect space for the two friends to come closer than ever by sharing their loss and the predicaments that weigh them down. Laras, the only person ever to know him this closely, draws David to her. By the time the trip is concluded, the two have practically started off a charming romance. And yet, there are still mountains to overcome for Laras, whose fleeting happiness is replaced with agony when Dilla reads her texts on David’s phone and realizes that it was Laras who wrote the fantasy fiction.

Dear David (2023) Movie Ending, Explained:

Dear David predominantly concerns itself with condemning the disturbingly relevant problem of sexism in the education system. Starting with Dilla, the authoritative stance of the school was to berate her based on lies spread by a boy who couldn’t gain her affection. Instead of investigating the root of the rumors, the school, and especially the principal, readily accused her of taking part in spreading “pornography.”

Shaming her for the way she dresses and immediately associating that with imagined hypersexuality, the principal practically hounded her to make her confess to a crime she didn’t commit. The school’s innate sexism is on full display when it’s the girls whose skirt lengths are checked when it was a boy who was subjected to sexual objectification. And the same remains the principal’s perspective when the truth about Laras becomes widely known. She has no intention of punishing Arya, the boy who violated Laras’ privacy and leaked her erotica. Laras is the only one to issue an apology, while the perpetrator behind the two disruptions gets absolved of his wrongdoings.

Laras has been battling with keeping up the image of an ideal child ever since her father abandoned his family. Taking the blame for it on her own little shoulders, she grew up setting draconian standards for the kind of girl she was supposed to be. She is comforted by the support from her mother, who promises to love her even when she falls short. What doesn’t come easily for Laras is realizing the pain she has caused her best friend. Consumed by selfishness, Laras attacks Dilla for making her misdemeanor the knowledge of everyone in school.

But Dilla has never been one to take an unfair accusation sitting down. She bursts out with all the pain that has been pulverizing her from within and tells Laras off for being the cause of it all. Laras makes it her life’s mission to make up for hurting Dilla and tries to win back her love and trust. But Dilla never stopped loving Laras. Moreover, her love for Laras surpasses that of the one shared between friends. When she does come out to Laras and speaks out for the first time about her feelings, Laras is more than happy to support her friend, who has been through more than her fair share of heartache.

Knowing that her mother wouldn’t hold it against her even if she got expelled from school and had to enroll in a new one gave Laras the backing she needed to do the right thing. She gets on the podium during the school assembly as the unsuspecting principal awaits her apology. Instead of holding on to her goody-two-shoes image, Laras audaciously addresses the school’s sexist inclination.

She not only calls out Arya for being the primary instigator of the incidents that have robbed multiple students of their peace of mind but also bravely addresses the principal’s bias. In an unabashed attempt at normalizing love and desire, Laras refuses to apologize for writing the fantasy fiction. Being hallowed with cheers and applause from her peers, the hero doesn’t mind being expelled from the school. After all, she does end up with the love she craved and repairs her friendship with Dilla. As the cherry on top of an already sweet conclusion, Dilla embraces her queer identity, and we get to witness the hopeful beginning of a romance between her and a girl she likes.

Also, Read: Dear Mother [2022] Netflix Review: A middling comedy based on the oedipal issues


Dear David (2023) Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Dear David (2023) Cast: Shenina Cinnamon, Emir Mahira, Caitlin North Lewis
Where to watch Dear David

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