VOD Review - Everything Before Us

Whatever Yorgos Lanthimos was attempting to say in The Lobster, the filmmakers here say more efficiently. To me, this is the better version of The Lobster. It's a drama with a futuristic idea that isn't set in the future but an alternative universe, one where a bureaucratic idea has taken over how society is run with specific regard to people's romantic lives. Basically, both The Lobster and this movie have the premise of saying what if people's love lives were regulated by the government, not necessarily controlling people's love lives but putting up strict barriers that force people to couple up in ways that distance them from pure emotional motivations and emphasize other factors that are perhaps more about status, logic and order.

The problem with The Lobster is the bureaucracy that Lanthimos concocted, the rules of how his alternate universe worked, made no sense. Most likely, it was never meant to make sense. It was merely supposed to be absurd, which you either found funny or frustrating. I found it frustrating particularly given Lanthimos' propensity for violence and inherent homophobia within The Lobster. However, the bureaucracy and the rules in this movie make more sense. The tone here has everyone behaving more straightforward and normal than the bizarre and overly deadpan way of Lanthimos' film.

Aaron Yoo (Disturbia and 21) stars as Ben, a designer or computer programmer who is trying to get a design job. During his job interview, he is turned down because he's single and has a low EI score. In this world, there is this government agency known as the Department of Emotional Integrity, or DEI, and this agency issues EI scores. DEI seems like it's a combination of the DMV and a credit agency. A person's EI score can affect what job you get and other things that can determine your socioeconomic status.

Directed and co-written by Philip Wang and Wesley Chan, collectively known as Wong Fu Productions, a company that puts Asian-Americans in the forefront, this movie has the premise that people have to register and document their relationships with the DEI. Even if two people are just dating, they have to register it. If the two people break up, they also have to report on the break-up and the reasons for it. This report will either cause one's EI score to go up or down, depending on who takes responsibility for the break-up.

Brittany Ishibashi (Political Animals and Emily Owens M.D.) co-stars as Sara Hayashi, a young woman who wants her own business, a bakery. She's also the ex-girlfriend of Ben. She goes to the bank to get a business loan, but she's told she has a low credit score, yet she does have a high EI score, which in this world allows her to get the loan.

Ben doesn't like that he can't do or get things because of his low EI score. He goes to Sara and asks her to return to the DEI so they can appeal their break-up and improve his EI score. Randall Park (Fresh Off the Boat and The Interview) also co-stars as Randall, a mediator and teacher at DEI. He's the one that Ben and Sara have to meet to discuss their break-up. Through this Ben and Sara reexamine their relationship, determine what they want and what's important to them.

At the same time, two college students, Seth, played by Brandon Soo Hoo (From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series), and Haley, played by Victoria Park, fall in love and also register at the DEI, despite Haley going to school far away. Seth and Haley have to deal with a long-distance relationship. They're warned but dive into it any way. Unfortunately, while Haley is away, she gains the attention of a teacher's assistant named Jay, played by Ki Hong Lee (The Maze Runner and The Stanford Prison Experiment).

Even though they only get one scene, this movie does have one gay couple, which is way more than Lanthimos' film has. Randall interviews them. They're Clint Fisher, a cute young Asian guy, and Scott Bradley, a cute young blonde guy. Clint is played by YouTube star Dominic Sandoval (So You Think You Can Dance) and Scott is played by model Josh Brodis (Glee and Tosh.0). Having this gay couple again shows more richness and diversity in the world than in Lanthimos' film.

What's great about this movie that Lanthimos' film lacks is that this movie isn't overwhelmed or undone by its premise. Probably because Lanthimos' film is so ridiculous and strains credulity that it has a hard time moving away from it. Every scene feels the weight of the premise, which drags it down in a lot of ways. This movie isn't weighed down like that. The premise isn't as ridiculous or unreasonable, and it's so built into the fabric that it ceases to call attention to itself, but it is there. Because of that and its diversity in characters, especially with its predominantly Asian cast, make it far better than The Lobster.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for general audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 39 mins.

Premiered at 2015 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Available on Netflix Watch Instant.

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