2 Best Movies to Watch by Isaac Powell

Staff & contributors

The concepts of roads not taken and domino effects have received plenty of cinematic attention in their showier forms by way of multiverse comic book movies and dimension-hopping films like Everything Everywhere All At Once. But, though there’s no hint of sci-fi in Past Lives, Celine Song’s gentle film can count itself as one of the best treatments of that universe-spawning question: “what if?”

When her family moves from Seoul to Canada, teenage Na Young bids a loaded farewell to classmate Hae Sung and changes her name to Nora. Years later, they reconnect online and discover the spark still burns between them. This is no idealistic romance, though: Past Lives is told with sober candor. Song acknowledges real obstacles standing in the way of a relationship between the two — those pragmatic (distance) and, more painfully, personal (evolving personalities, American husbands).

Those two threads — unrealized romance and the transmutation of identity that so often takes place after migrating — are expertly entwined in Past Lives to produce a sublime, aching meditation on memory and time, practical love and idealistic romance, and all the complex contradictions that exist in between. That Song communicates so much and so delicately in only her first film makes Past Lives all the more stunning.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: An Min-yeong, Chang Ki-ha, Chase Sui Wonders, Choi Won-young, Emily Cass McDonnell, Federico Rodriguez, Greta Lee, Hwang Seung-eon, Isaac Powell, Jack Alberts, Jane Yubin Kim, John Magaro, Jojo T. Gibbs, Kristen Sieh, Moon Seung-a, Moon Seung-ah, Seo Yeon-woo, Teo Yoo, Yim Seung-min, Yoon Ji-hye

Director: Celine Song

Rating: PG-13

Susie Searches begins intriguingly for two reasons: first, there’s the strange disappearance of popular college student Jesse Wilcox (Alex Wolff), and then there’s the fact that that mystery is solved in the film's first 20-ish minutes. With over an hour left of its runtime at this point, Susie Searches seems to suggest Jesse’s disappearance was only a red herring, and that we’re in for something juicier now.

Alas, the rest of the movie — which stars Kiersey Clemons as the titular socially awkward student sleuth who finds Jesse — never lives up to this promise. An encouraging cast list is let down by thin characters; this isn’t true just for the supporting parts played by Rachel Sennott, Jim Gaffigan, Ken Marino, Dolly Wells, and Wolff, but, far more detrimentally to the film, Susie herself. Her motivations are complicated by more than just a desire for the truth, but, despite Clemons’ best efforts, this not-quite Nancy Drew is never all that psychologically compelling or believable. In a film that hinges on big twists revolving around its protagonist, that’s a fatal flaw, because we’re only ever half-invested. Though it may play better with younger audiences, anyone else will likely find its promising cast to be the biggest red herring of all.

Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Costa Ganis, Alex Moffat, Alex Wolff, Ana Cruz Kayne, Ana Kayne, Chris Sheffield, David Walton, Dolly Wells, Ellie Reine, Geoffrey Owens, Isaac Powell, Jammie Patton, Jared Gilman, Jim Gaffigan, Juliette Goglia, Kat Foster, Ken Marino, Kiersey Clemons, Mellanie Hubert, Neal Bledsoe, Rachel Sennott

Director: Sophie Kargman