“Past Lives”

(USA/South Korea)

Rotten Tomatoes (2/5), Metacritic (4/10), Letterboxd (2/5), Imdb.com (4/10), TMDB.com (2/5)

As the son of parents who were childhood sweethearts/soul mates, I tend to be a sucker for movie romances that address this subject. In this case, however, the only “sucker” aspect applies to the money I plunked down to watch this two-hour snoozefest. Writer-director Celine Song’s debut feature has been praised as a masterful piece of filmmaking and one of the best pictures of 2023, but I heartily beg to disagree. When a pair of young, tightly knit Korean children, Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), part ways from their native Seoul and are later reunited in New York after a 24-year separation, the reunion of these onetime pals provides them with an opportunity to reflect on their relationship and what might have been. However, their time together consists mostly of a series of bloated pregnant pauses, inane dialogue and missed chances to discuss much of anything meaningful, the kinds of scenes that make even the most patient viewers want to yell “Get on with it already!” These “conversations” come nowhere close to matching their joy of their spirited youthful interactions or the heartfelt, substantive talks that take place between Nora and her eventual husband, Arthur (John Magaro). And, as the title implies, there’s a reincarnational theme that plays a role here, but it’s so diluted and lamely handled that it comes across as an underdeveloped afterthought, one that could have easily been left out entirely with no impact on the story (though it probably could have added a lot if given greater weight). The overall result is, quite frankly, a big fat bore that’s trying to be more than it is but never achieves that outcome, relying on alleged “deftness” and “nuance” that never end up bearing significant fruit. Perhaps the biggest problem with all this is the film’s truly sincere but decidedly paper thin narrative that doesn’t have the writing support to bring it all into beautiful full bloom, despite some fine performances, exquisite cinematography and an emotive background score. From this work, the director would appear to have a hefty reserve of artistic potential stashed away, at least based on this offering’s stylistic elements, but it just doesn’t show. Indeed, the substance could use some definite and considerable shoring up. Let’s hope she gets that right the next time.