Everything Before Us (2015), a Review

What I can say?  I finally watched this one on Netflix, and I must say...I'm impressed.

I first saw this trailer last year and wished the guys at Wong Fu all the best.  I've been entertained by their videos for over a decade now, and they've more than earned their place in the film industry.


The film is set in the near future, where the Department of Emotional Integrity (D.E.I.) oversees all romantic relationships by issuing publicly-accessible 'relationship score' that keep individuals accountable for their everyday choices. The film follows the stories of Ben and Sara, an older couple who must revisit their past with the D.E.I., and Seth and Haley, a younger couple entering their first registered and long-distance relationship with the D.E.I. (Source)
In addition to predominantly POC cast (filled with delightfully chosen cameos, including rapper Traphik and actor Khalif Boyd), I admire the premise behind Everything Before Us.  The writing is patient, thorough, and humorous, and the pacing of the film matches it perfectly.  Every concept introduced is visually explored.

The DEI concept is brilliant; it has that potential to be both amusing and horrifying. It's amusing when Randall Park (yes, that one) mediates the break-up of a young gay couple (one-half of which is portrayed by Dominic "D-Trix" Sandoval).  D-Trix's character is the one ending the relationship, and is clearly confident about about his future...until the mediator awards him 76% fault, and then reassures his now ex-lover that he will find love again.

It's horrifying when you realize just how influential someone's Emotional Integrity/EI/relationship score is.  A low score can get you dumped before a first date even begins.  It determines which clubs you can get into.  It determines whether or not you can secure a business loan.  It determines whether or not you can get a job.  It determines whether or not you can keep your job.

In other words, think of your current or most recent romantic relationship.  Now, imagine if the length and quality of that relationship controlled literally every other aspect of your life.

Mm-hm.

Registering a relationship with someone who has a higher score boosts yours; doing the opposite, does the opposite.  Within the first few minutes of the film, the notion of a "score-digger" is established.  And since score-digging exists, so does relationship fraud (which can be investigated).

Since all relationships between adults 18 and older are registered with the DEI, pissing off your partner in any way can drive them to file for termination.  If you've been unfaithful, abusive, controlling, etc., and the relationship is terminated on those grounds, you can expect your score to plummet.  If you don't testify together or at least file a report which matches (and then sign off on it together), you can definitely expect that to come back and haunt you.  So can trying to help out an ex who's suffering from a low score (as doing so can get you investigated).

So right there, the audience knows what's up and no doubt has some "questions".  Like...what if you're a good person who finds yourself saddled with a shitty score ('cause it happens)?  What if y'all are truly in love, but life keeps throwing you curve balls, as it is wont to do?  What if you're asexual and you don't even do romantic relationships?  Can you opt out of registering your relationships?

Who came up with this barbaric system anyway, and are they roasting in hell where they belong???

Aaron Yoo as "Ben"
Actor Aaron Yoo portrays the lead who is at first prevented from getting a job, then later fired from his job, all because of his EI score.  His ex, Sara, helps him out, which later gets her investigated.

Brandon Soo Hoo as "Seth"
Brandon Soo Hoo, a 20-year-old actor I hope to watch grow and prosper for many decades to come, portrays Seth.  Seth is like Ben's younger counterpart.  Where Ben is older and more experienced, Seth is younger, in his first relationship, and thus more optimistic about being "the exception".

Unfortunately, Seth is unable tell that his long-distance girlfriend needs space.  Granted, she's uncommunicative and dismissive towards his feelings, so when they file for termination, she's initially awarded over 80% of the fault.  However, by this point in the movie, Seth and Ben have crossed paths, with Ben imparting some wisdom, so Seth selflessly assumes all the blame.

Both men are quite compelling, despite their divergent portrayals.  Where Yoo's performance is nuanced and restrained, Soo Hoo's youthful performance is moving and genuine.  He's the unrestrained lovesick schoolboy, willing to work long hours and travel long distance at the drop of a hat.  He's so blinded and deafened by young love that he can't process the deteriorating reality of his relationship.

Randall Park as "Randall" the DEI Mediator
Randall Park's consistent role as the seemingly ubiquitous mediator is also noteworthy.  In wordless, brief, and subtle scenes, we can see the toll his work takes on him.  And it's understandable; he watches love blossom and implode several times a day, on a daily basis (he's also pointedly not shown in relationship himself).  Though he won't admit it, the system Randall supports and wields authority for is doing the exact opposite of its original intent: the scores are hurting people, maximizing rather than minimizing the trauma of relationships, fostering deception and divisiveness.

My one big issue with this film is the same issue I'm having lately when men write scripts: it's is how the women are portrayed.  Without even checking the full credits, I could tell a man/men had written this.

Example: Earlier I mentioned the term "score-digger".  This term is first brought up when Randall goes to a high school to explain DEI registration to a class of 18-year-olds.  A dark-skinned Black student raises his hand and asks why his mother is often referred to as a score-digger.  His classmates laugh; one even calls out, "It means she's a slut, bro."

Randall's assistant/fellow mediator/whoever is a Black woman who promptly tries to assure the class that there's nothing with seeking someone with a score as good or higher than theirs.  As the movie progresses, her words ring hollow.

Ben and Seth are portrayed as more honest, selfless, faithful and loving than their respective female counterparts Sara and Haley.  Sure, out of love for Ben, Sara is willing to help him fix his initial score of 38 out of 100, but she's also revealed to be in fraudulent relationship with a guy named Jeremy because she needed a business loan.  And sure, Haley is entitled to space and Seth really isn't a good listener,  but she's also portrayed as being straight-up selfish, unloving, and self-focused.  Since the EI score determines so much - even what schools and special programs students have access to - Haley is willing to let Seth fall on the sword just so she can go to London.

Thus, the underlying perception about female self-entitlement (and about women "having all the power") rings clear.

It was this crucial flaw which, for me, turned a five-star film into a four stars.

Comments

  1. Interesting review.
    I saw this movie last year too. I was pleased by the quality of filming. But I was not amazed by the story, even though the whole D.E.I. thing was an interesting idea. The ending could have been more rebelious or something, more thrilling. Well, I'm not into romantic movies anyway, I'm usually not fond of Wong Fu's content on youtube so this isn't a surprise. What makes me keep watching is the simplicity and the wittiness in a few of minutes. And the Asian cast. 'Cause where I'm at (Europe) there's (almost) no visible Asians in the entertainment (and I do the same for Black-owned webseries). Now the 'love' theme is just not my thing and I can't really relate to it so yeah...

    *What if you're asexual and you don't even do romantic relationships? Can you opt out of registering your relationships?

    Who came up with this barbaric system anyway, and are they roasting in hell where they belong???*

    > Right!? I thought the same, while the writing was good, they didn't explain how and why the D.E.I. was established and why it is still legitimate...

    As for the way women are portrayed in this film (including the stereotype "single Black mom who can't keep a man"), I agree too. I clearly see a man's perspective too here. The perspectives here needed balance (a woman's view).

    ReplyDelete

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