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PAST LIVES movie review

ByTaylor T Carlson

Jun 23, 2023

PAST LIVES is directed by Celine Song. The film stars Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro.

Nora and Hae Sung were childhood friends growing up in Korea, but when Nora’s family relocated to Canada, the two went on their own paths in life. Many years later, with Nora having moved to New York City to pursue a career as a playwright, the two reconnect via the internet and video chats, curious about each other’s lives and developments, exploring their own respective relationships. Will the childhood crush come back and unite the two, or will they stay on their own career paths and in their respective locations?

I knew relatively nothing about PAST LIVES coming into the film outside of the basic premise, and I certainly wasn’t familiar with any of the actors and actresses in the film. However, A24 certainly has more hits than misses when it comes to cinema, giving this moviegoer a sense of optimism. The film is relatable and has great personnel on both sides of the camera. It’s a touching drama with some fantastic performances, though it’s sadly lacking in surprises, and the slower pace admittedly won’t be for everyone.

PAST LIVES shines brightest in the form of its stars. Greta Lee gives a great performance as Nora, who grows up to be a playwright living in New York City (because, as any moviegoer knows, that’s where every movie is set). Seeing her conflicted between a current relationship and a longing for a childhood crush makes for some intriguing drama, The men in her life are her former childhood crush Hae Sung, played by Teo Yoo, and fellow writer Arthur, played by John Magaro. While it never quite reaches full-on “love triangle” status, I won’t deny that this trio was well cast and does what they’re given well. Director Celine Song clearly understands human drama, and it shows in every scene.

The movie also scores points for having a relatable premise. Set over the course of a 24-year period (starting in either the late 90s or early 2000s and culminating in the present day), the initial premise is simple but to the point. With the advent of social media, how many of us have looked up old friends and crushes from back in the day? It’s the driving force in PAST LIVES, resulting in some intriguing moments. Characters’ personal conundrums unfold on screen with interesting results. Seeing the interactions between the male leads, particularly due to a language barrier, are particularly interesting and handled well by director song; PAST LIVES is her directorial debut.

While I enjoyed PAST LIVES, the movie never quite lives up to its potential. The film is slow and deliberately paced, and there are no major dramatic plot twists or shockers. It’s low-key and feels like built up to something that never quite comes. Seeing the characters interact is great, but it’s a reunion between old friends and not much else. It’s also a shame more of the film isn’t spent shaping Nora’s life outside of her relationships; her writer/playwright career has a lot of potential that’s never quite explored as well as it should be, nor is her childhood upon arriving in Canada. The movie also seems to forget that Nora had a sister in her younger years; could we at least have gotten a few lines about where her life ended up?

I enjoyed PAST LIVES, but wanted to love it. The performances are fantastic, as is Song’s direction. But nothing happens. The deliberate pace, sadly, builds to nothing overall. That said, seeing the cast interact and the strong writing combined makes this one a solid rental if nothing else.

By Taylor T Carlson

Taylor T Carlson Assistant Editor/Senior Staff Writer Taylor T. Carlson was born August 17, 1984, and has called the Vegas Valley home his entire life. A die-hard fan of classic rock and metal music, Taylor has been writing album and concert reviews since he was 16 years old, and continues to do so, having done well over 1,000 reviews. He is also a fan of video gaming and cinema, and has reviewed a number of games and films as well, old and new alike. His thorough and honest (some would say brutally honest) reviewing style has won him the respect of hundreds of music fans and musicians alike, both local and abroad, and the ire of just as many others. Despite being one of the youngest attendees at classic hard rock/metal shows around Vegas, he is also one of the most knowledgeable, having gained the unofficial nickname of “The Eddie Trunk of Las Vegas.” In addition to reviews, Taylor has written and self-published three books on classic hard rock bands, and is a regular participant in rock and roll trivia contests. Taylor also holds a masters degree in special education from the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), and has appeared on the hit History Channel television series Pawn Stars. His dream is to be able to one day make a living from writing music books and reviews.

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