Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Review: Past Lives


You know, back in the day I used to review non-nerdy/non-genre films. Let’s bring that back.

Past Lives is the feature film debut of director Celine Song, a playwright turned screenwriter who also happens to be a Korean Canadian immigrant. Seeing as this movie is about a Korean Canadian immigrant coming to terms with their past and the idea of “what if”, it’s probably fair to assume  we’re seeing some autobiographical storytelling here. This movie stars Greta Lee who, after years of being in the supporting cast, is getting an overdue shot at a lead role.

Here we are seeing another example of East Asian filming making an impact, as despite it essentially being a foreign language film it is still an American made one rather than a movie imported from overseas. I really feel that, ever since Crazy Rich Asians, producers/distributors/Hollywood have been taking more chances with potentially similar projects. While focusing on a different culture, my enjoyment of The Farewell is what spurred me to try to movie out.

I’ve said this since the earliest days of this blog and it’s still true: I am not always the correct audience for independent films and I find it often to be a crapshoot over whether I leave the theater feeling satisfied. This being the work of a first-time director, does this movie show promise of a new career or should the director maybe stick with writing plays?

Full review after the jump.

Basically every scene they share, they just stare longingly at each other

It’s interesting to see Greta Lee as a lead in a film for once, as she has this compelling charisma in her performance here that is difficult to put into words. It was just easy to like her character Nora, and I think it’s Lee’s acting rathe than the script that makes it possible. The movie hangs on whether the two leads have chemistry and the absolutely do. It’s fascinating to see how well Lee and Teo Yoo work onscreen considering they spend half of their scenes not even in the same room.

Going back to the script, I did not mean to imply anything negative about it; it’s well-crafted and works well. It feels like real people talking (most of the time). A lot of this story is something that will mostly hit for immigrants balancing the life they have with the life they left when they moved countries, something that I cannot relate to, but the crux of the film is still the idea of lingering on what could have been versus what you currently have, and that is something all of us can relate to regardless of our origin. And, frankly, Celine Song is very effective in pulling those heart strings as I was overcome with my own baggage of past events on more than one account and left the movie emotionally compromised as a result. This all in all was a beautiful flick.

In retrospect, this lone shot tells you exactly how this movie will end

There were a few things that I noticed while watching, and I’m wondering if these are things based on Celine Song as a first-time director or if I’m just overreacting. This movie feels like it’s supposed to be subtle, like it doesn’t need to hold your hand to make its point. But there’s a lot of unsubtle things throughout that felt like I was in fact being beaten over the head. Something as little as Nora wearing a Toronto t-shirt in several scenes in a row to make sure that we caught that she immigrated to Canada even if she lives in New York, to the absolutely ridiculous comparisons between the strong jawed, manly Hae Sung and the nebbish, neurotic Arthur (who is an author) which clearly puts one high above the other in conventional attractiveness. It feels a little try-hard at times. 

Speaking of Arthur, I can’t tell how the movie wants me to feel about him. He’s absolutely not written as an obstacle to a potential romance between Nora and Hae Sung and the film lampshades the idea of this, but at the same time everything we learn about him is plain as toast except for how goddamn insecure the dude is. He is a ball of fear and self-deprecation when he finds out Hae Sung is coming to town, going as far as to even suggest his wife of several years may, and possibly should, leave him for her childhood friend. I don’t think the movie wants me to dislike Arthur but there’s absolutely nothing less attractive than that level of diffidence (and I should know; we can smell our own). Halfway through the third act I was begging for Nora to leave him and say “you know what, Arthur, you’re right, I will leave you since you seem to want me to so f**king badly!”

Arthur is dope. She should cheat on him.

I'm sure he's a nice guy, though

Husbands that deserve to be stuffed into lockers aside, this is a very memorable movie. It’s a great script, it’s super poignant, and I left the theater nearly in tears based on how much it affected me. I hope we see more of Song in the director’s chair, and I really hope we get more opportunities to see Lee being the focus of more stories going forward, because I think Hollywood has been sleeping on her.

I give Past Lives 4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.


-Great chemistry between the leads; Greta Lee is particularly good.

-A very touching, and relatable story.


-Could be more subtle at times.

-Arthur is practically begging his wife to make him a cuckhold and I don’t like it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...