Review: Everything Before Us

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FILM: EVERYTHING BEFORE US


EVERYTHING BEFORE US (2015)
Cast:  Aaron Yoo, Brittany Ishibashi, Brandon Soo Hoo, Victoria Park, Randall Park, Ki Hong Lee
Directed by: Wesley Chan, Philip Wang / WongFuProductions on YouTube 
Written by: Wesley Chan, Philip Wang, Chris Dinh
Premise:
Everything Before Us tells the unique story of two couples trying their best to maintain and strengthen their love while navigating around the rules of an organization that monitors all romantic relationships.
Check Out: Stream or Download / Learn more about Everything Before Us

The film centers on two different relationships. Seth and Haley are young and naive high school sweethearts who attempt a long distance relationship after college. Ben and Sarah are a more experienced couple and meet again to discuss the dissolution of their relationship with the D.E.I.

The D.E.I. – The Department Of Emotional Integrity is a government organization set in the backdrop of these paralleling relationships. The organization keeps track of everyone’s romantic activities and assigns each person a public ‘relationship score’. Scores influence many things in a person’s daily life including finances, relationships, employment, etc.

WongFu’s idea of this D.E.I. organization is easily the most interesting part of the entire movie. A relationship score could certainly prove itself useful when trying to gauge someone’s personal responsibility, good nature, and emotional capability. The concept is an unique part of the film’s world in postmodern California and definitely one worthy of exploration. Everything Before Us shows some of the advantages and disadvantages of the program but never really dives into the intricacies of how the D.E.I. works.

Instead, the film focuses on romance and as a fan of WongFu’s YouTube content, I expect nothing more. This is what the creators have become known for. For years, WongFu Productions have created romantic and/or funny digital content with a mostly Asian American cast and production team. The organization hooks audiences into seeing how D.E.I. affects couples such as Ben and Sarah and Seth and Haley.

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The thing is, the film’s two pivotal romances fall flat. None of the characters are developed fully and so, it becomes hard to really care about the relationships.

The younger couple, Seth and Haley, prove especially underdeveloped because they’re essentially defined by their relationship. I could barely remember Seth’s name in the first half of the film because neither he or Haley have any distinct characteristics. The film lacks any moments of exposition to show each characters’ individual personalities or motivations. I don’t know why Seth adores Haley so much and vice versa. Even details like what each character majors in college would be useful in getting a better idea of Seth and Haley’s personalities. It’s hard to cheer for a couple to stay together when their personalities are simply not there.

Ben and Sarah’s development fare a little bit better. Ben’s excitement about his new designer job and Sarah’s passion for cooking hint at their creativity and ambition. Even then, it’s little to go on. And part of the reason the older couple seem more three-dimensional is mostly due to the superior acting, not the writing. Aaron Yoo manages to really elevate the material he’s given. Many of Ben’s monologues about relationships are unremarkable but Yoo’s transforms the scenes into a more emotionally honest performances.

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I’ve long been a fan of WongFu Productions but at the same time, I’ve always been very aware of WongFu’s shortcomings in leaning towards romantic cliches.

Few emerging Youtube/web series creators overcome the mediocre acting, production values and writing that small budgets are usually limited to. For their first feature film, WongFu didn’t do too bad. For the most part, the acting is fine with maybe the exception of Victoria Park. Wang and Chan’s direction lack a distinct style but visually, the film’s higher production values and sets successfully create a more professional look. Of course, it is a film most crucial element – the writing –  is something WongFu must work on.

If not, well…I’ll probably watch WongFu’s content anyway because I do my best to support Asian American media, cheesiness and all. I admire how far the production company has come and  I appreciate the Asian American talent they continue to showcase in their shorts.  Not all WongFu content may be amazing but it’s so rare to find entertaining content made by and starring fellow Asian Americans. It’s good that audiences, especially young Asians, have the opportunity to see media where non-stereotypical representations of Asian Americans are the norm and not the exception.

But with an exclusive YouTube funded series called Single by 30 possibly in the works, I sincerely hope WongFu learn to improve their writing and stay away from cliches. Ideally, WongFu would also show some LGBTQ+ characters and romances in the new series. I had rewind and make sure gay relationships were actually shown in Everything Before Us for a brief moment. WongFu content has always been very heteronormative so I hope WongFu’s representation becomes more inclusive of different Asians in terms of race, sexuality, body types, and more.


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