‘Past Lives’ Review: One of the Year’s Best and Most Poignant Films

Kenny Miles reviews Past Lives, the briliant debut feature film from director Celine Song concerning two individuals who reconnect after many years and other complications.

You know that one person who you made a connection with earlier in life and you parted ways? Imagine meeting them again like fate or a higher power allowed you to cross paths. All of those memories flood back. Second chances and reconnections don’t happen often. People reuniting can lead to unexpected moments with complicated emotions and messy relationships. A24’s Past Lives emphasizes people wondering what could have been and questions current choices.

Past Lives shows two vulnerable childhood friends who reconnect after several years apart. I remembered the saying that when it comes to reuniting with an old friend, “You can pick up where you left off,” but in the opposite way. They both long for platonic intimacy and closure but wonder if something more exists. Regrets and doubt can consume people, especially when it comes to relationships. Pursuing an ending with your first crush and the life you left halfway around the world.

See Also: ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ Review: A Sweet and Nostalgic Adaptation of a Timeless Judy Blume Classic

The acting from the three main performers is the highlight. Greta Lee’s Nora is the center of the movie. She fondly remembers her early childhood in Korea and still adjusting to American life with her husband. Nora has tremendous poignancy and rawness as a woman navigating between two worlds: the past and the present, a first love and her current one.

Teo Yoo is a revelation as Hae Sung. He has all the most compelling scenes, and I sense the profound feeling of emptiness in his life when he is eating with friends and family, as well as the pivotal scene toward the end at the bar. He is missing out on going through the motions, and you feel his pain.

Finally, John Magaro’s Arthur has a complexity that snuck up on me during his low-key moments. He has a delicate part to play as a man struggling with insecurity and feeling isolated in this situation. It is disconnection and loss in his own relationship.

In the breathtaking directorial debut of the year, Celine Song enhances poignant moments with her very perceptive screenplay about the intricacy of first loves, relationships, and commitments. As I continue to process my feelings over it, weeks after watching, a scene of Arthur talking to Nora about her dreams in Korean engulfs me with emotions and pushes me to tears. He couldn’t be a part of her whole life and had hidden places he couldn’t go.

Overall, Past Lives is a slow build character study that leads to something enchanting. Without revealing anything, the ending feels like an all-timer that cinephiles will be referencing for a long time, easily elevating this drama into one of the year’s best and most poignant movies.

Past Lives is now playing in theaters nationwide.

Written by
Kenny admired film criticism as a child when his mother wrote a positive review of Home Alone in his small town Arkansas newspaper and defended it against angry Letters to the Editor. Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies especially the cultural impact of a film, if something is overlooked by Hollywood, or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, specialty releases, an auteur director, a unique premise, branding, and THE much infamous "awards season." Kenny currently lives in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion working as an events marketing coordinator. He spends many Friday nights exit polling for CinemaScore (and his opinions are his own).

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