Everything Before Us
Starring Aaron Yoo, Brittany Ishibashi, Brandon Soo Hoo, Victoria Park, Randall Park
Directed by Wesley Chan & Philip Wang
IMDB Rating: 7.5/10 (from 536 votes)
Bad relationships suck, don’t they? They’re hard to keep going, and eventually crash and burn causing untold pain to the people involved. This is what the government think anyway, in this interesting take on the problem of toxic love.
In Everything Before Us, there is a government organisation called the Department of Emotional Integrity (DEI), who keep documented record off all official relationships as a way of saving people from the distress of ill-advised love. Every person is given a relationship score which is dependent on factors such as length of relationship, the other persons score and the reason for breaking-up, or ‘termination’. This score is public and effects all aspects of everyday life, from getting a loan to getting into clubs. The film follows two couples at different ends of the relationship timeline. First is Ben (Yoo), whose terrible score is stopping him from getting the job of his dreams, forcing him to contact ex-girlfriend of three years Sara (Ishibashi) so they can agree on the reason for their relationship’s termination with the DEI. At the other end is young-lovers Seth (Soo Hoo) and Haley (Park), who are signing off on their first official relationship with the DEI despite Haley moving long-distance to study.
This was a film I have actually wanted to see for about a year now. The last time I looked for it though it was only available on some really obscure streaming site (I think it was Vimeo). The idea that regulations on relationships would make everything run more smoothly is a really interesting thing to take on. Unfortunately, the film – deliberately or not – sets out to debunk the whole idea almost from the very start. This is, to be fair to them, the running theme of the movie – that numbers and stats can’t tell the story of someone’s love – but I thought it would have been a better argument if the idea was shown to have some substantial merit at some point. The story also follows a fairly predictable pattern, but this wouldn’t be the first romance to use a fairly run-out template. It’s not all doom and gloom with this though – I did like how it looked at two different relationships, first love and previous love, and I also really liked how it teased about Ben and Sara’s previous relationship through almost split-second snapshots.
The acting throughout this film was actually pretty solid. While the dialogue wasn’t necessarily the most organic, you could definitely feel the relationship between the characters. Also, I thought they all did really good jobs with the moments of distress in the film. The relationship between Seth and Haley was really solid throughout, and their break-up scene is definitely the highlight of the whole film, and a great piece of acting by Victoria Park. Also, there’s a collection of really good comical side-characters in this film, particularly Randall Park playing the DEI rep, who actually creates a really interesting and deep character.
The directing in this film is similar to the writing, in that a lot of it feels plucked from other romance films. There’s not much originality, with Chan & Wang very much playing it by the book. As mentioned earlier, I do think the snapshot flashbacks are really clever, beautiful and well thought-out moments, but I’m afraid the rest of it feels very basic.
I think this film is summed up by a small, two-second shot at the end of the movie. When Haley moves to London to study, she visits a café and buys something. The camera focuses on the British notes that she puts on the counter, and the only thing I can think for that – because there’s little need for it – is that they said “Oh by the way, don’t forget to use pound notes,” and they were so proud of remembering to use British money that they had to explicitly show us all. Everything Before Us does at times feel like a university student’s film project, and it’s moments like this that reaffirm this idea.
Overall, this is an interesting idea for a movie, and the cast was solid, but the rest is done far too cautiously. It does at times feel like an expensive university project, and really does lack that flair to make it stand out.