The movie begins with Randall (Randall Park) narrating the traumas of love while images of different couples are shown. After discussing the pains of love, Randall discusses the DEI (Department of Emotional Integrity) that was designed to help people find love and “confidence in one another.” Anytime that a film has a plot like this, you know that the system is jaded. Something has to go wrong. Doesn’t it?
Randall is presenting the EI (Emotional Integrity) test to a class involving only two students that seem to care about it [I think it is safe to say that these students will be important]. The test functions in this way, everyone begins with a score of 70, but it is their responsibility to either increase or decrease their score. If a relationship is terminated after less than a year, it will negatively affect their score. Additionally, the amount of blame for each partner will affect it. If a relationship is terminated because of infidelity, that score is definitely getting debunked. Once someone turns 18, they must register [this is oddly similar to the annoying kids on campus that enter your lecture and attempt to persuade you to register to vote because you are of age and it is your duty as a citizen].
After this scene, we are transported to Ben’s (Aaron Yoo) job interview. Despite his credentials, the job judges Ben based on his rather low EI score and denies him a position. We then see Sara (Brittany Ishibashi) applying for a loan to open her bakery. Her credit score is slightly above average, but her EI score is an 82/100, so she gets approved [since apparently one’s emotions help pay finances rather than their credit].
So now we return to the high school kids. The boy gives his girlfriend a glove that he made to keep her warm in San Francisco (where she is applying for college). When she asks for another glove, he tells her that a girl like her only needs it for one hand. He then grabs her gloveless hand and holds it [because this will protect her from frostbite, and what about when he is not with her? Can she only exit her house in the cold if he present?]
Back to Ben. Ben reaches out to Sara by phone, who instantly picks up. He tells her that because of their conflicting reasons for their termination (breakup), their scores have been reduced. I found this part odd because she had an 82/100. This paired with her instantaneous reaction of picking up the phone led me to believe that she was dating her current boyfriend to increase her score. Sara agrees to go with Ben to the DEI to help him.
[Insert Montage of Sara and Ben’s past]
The high school couple check their applications on their phone. Up until this point, I thought that they were the past versions of Sara and Ben, but when the girl checked her application and saw “Congratulations Haley!” I realized that she was not Sara. So we have two story arcs here: Ben and Sara; and Seth (Brandon Soo Hoo) and Haley (Victoria Park).
BS Arc: They arrive to the DEI which is eerily similar to the DMV. Upon being called in, Randall reviews their relationship: They were in a registered relationship for three years, but they submitted termination reports that did not match. It is apparent common knowledge that reports must state the same reasons and be signed off by one another. In Ben’s report, he claimed that Sara committed an infidelity through kissing someone else. Unaware of this, Sara argues with Ben and refuses to signing his reason because it would jeopardize her score.
SH Arc: Seth and Haley go to the DEI to register their first, and long-distance relationship. Randall warns them of the difficulties surrounding long-distance relationships as well as young love, but Seth wishes to be the exception.
BS: Continue arguing and both agree that they were guilty. For some reason, Sara brings Ben to the unfinished site of her bakery and this allows them to reach an agreement [perhaps the producers were attempting to create a metaphor as they are both unfinished projects]. They sign 50/50 responsibility.
[Insert Montage: Seth and Haley graduate. Sara breaks up with her boyfriend. Ben begins his new job]
BS: At his new job, Ben meets Anna. They begin to date.
SH: Haley leaves for college.
BS: Ben brings Anna to the opening for Sara’s bakery [because bringing your new girlfriend to your ex-girlfriend’s accomplishment is always a good thing to do, especially when you first start dating]. Sara informs Ben that she broke up with her boyfriend, while Anna is there [awks]. Anna asks is she has anything to worry about after Ben volunteers to paint a mural for Sara’s bakery, Ben says no [Ben is a liar, because we all know what will happen].
SH: Seth applies for a job at Sara’s bakery so he can visit Haley in California.
[Montage of Seth and Haley seeing one another]
Seth questions Sara about working with Ben. He discusses his feelings for Haley and says that he cannot imagine them ever going away. Sara, like a woman telling a child that Santa doesn’t exist, simply states,”Well, they do.” She tries to pivot back by saying that the feelings become easier to control as an adult. To which Seth replies, something along the lines of: even though they are easier to control, it does not mean that they are not there [and with that Seth caught Sara’s shit and threw it back at her].
[Montage of Ben and Sara working on the mural]
Seth and Haley fight about him wanting to visit her constantly and about her needing space [because living in another state isn’t enough]. Ben and Sara decide to drink scotch together [because that is always a good idea]. Ben kisses Sara, and in the most typical romantic drama fashion, Sara [who seemingly] enjoyed the kiss, gets up and leaves while Ben whispers “sorry” into nothingness. Seth informs Haley that he will be transferring a year earlier to Golden Gate and Haley becomes frustrated. She then attends a fraternity party [just when you thought the movie could not fit anymore clichés, they pull the old, “she was mad at her boyfriend so she went to a party” out their sleeve]. Seth, who flew down to surprise Haley, finds out that she is at the party. Cue the angry boyfriend. He finds Haley talking to her TA, Jay [who for some reason attends college parties to warn girls that fraternities use the party to score on girls. Wait no, I am sorry, he only does that for Haley]. In a rage of fury, Seth attacks Jay and loses. Badly. He grabs Haley and they leave.
Anna takes Ben’s phone to navigate them home after work. Yet anyone who has watched a movie before knows what will be on his phone, a message from Sara discussing the night before that just so happened to be sent the exact minute that Anna grabbed the phone. Anna demands to file for termination. Seth finds out that Haley wants to study abroad in London the following school year and the two fight.
[Insert montage of happy Haley and Seth as Seth takes the train back home]
Ben loses his job because his EI score dropped after Anna terminated the relationship. The DEI approaches Sara about relationship fraud. Haley gets the award for the most articulate and profound breakup ever. In what was meant to be an emotional scene, Haley becomes so robotic as she discusses the reasons for her and Seth’s breakup. I felt awkward witnessing it. I know it isn’t real, but perhaps what made it most awkward for me was the fact that this scene was rehearsed probably a dozen times, yet somehow this version was selected.
Ben drives to Sara. Sara informs Ben that because she helped him clear his score, the DEI looked into her file. She faked her relationship with her old boyfriend to increase her score [you don’t say!] and her loan is revoked. Ben tells her that he loves her, and the movie, is not over. Sara tells him that she doesn’t love him anymore.
Haley finds out that because she terminated her relationship with Seth, she cannot go to London. The competition is apparently so competitive that they examine EI scores. She tells Seth this who called her because he missed her.
Seth and Ben are finally on screen at the same time! Seth tells Ben that he is at the DEI because he is terminating his relationship with Haley. Ben asks Seth if he truly loves Haley, and Seth [obviously] says yes. Ben then tells him to “end things the way that is worthy of that love. That might make it forever” [because Ben instantly became a love guru after his rejection]. At the evaluation, Randall tells Seth that Haley is at 82% fault for their relationship ending, but Seth [being the romantic that he is] asks Randall to grant him full responsibility.
Ben is called to the DEI to prove that his relationship with Sara was real, as she is under investigation. After hearing Ben, Randall gives Sara a copy of Ben’s audit. Sara listens to it and hears how much Ben loves her. Now, you would think that after hearing this, Sara would typically run over to Ben and announce her love for him, but that is not what we get.
Haley is in London. Seth [whose score must be disastrous and will never find a job] moves to California. Ben and Sara repaint their mural, with the final words being: “What if we start over?”
The movie ends. Perhaps Ben and Sara are together, but we do not get the image that we want at the end of a romance: the two separated lovers rekindling their love after realizing their mistakes. Part of me likes this, yet a huge part of me wanted to see this after investing two hours of my life into their relationship. They all let me down. I know the movie began with the pain inflicted by love, but what about the joy that it brings? Yet in reality, life doesn’t go as planned, and a happy ending is difficult to achieve.
As you were reading the review, I am sure you took note of my constant inclusion of montages. The film seemed to really like this, so much so that I think the film without montages is probably an hour. I do not particularly care for these because they often show things that I can assume. For example, Seth visited Haley and she was excited. As they are still dating, I think that I could put together that he visits her every now and then. The montages made the film seem so prolonged. The ending did feel a bit empty, I do understand what the filmmakers were trying to achieve, but compared to all the other powerful quotes and moments in the film, it just seemed to fall flat. However, I was a fan that Asian Americans were incorporated in a film without their ethnicity having to be the main focus of the film. I also really liked the premise of the movie, [it reminded me of In Time and TiMER, yet it was unique in the process that it created), as well as the idea of the intertwining story arcs. I thought the characters were well-fleshed and it was easy to sympathize with all of them, something that is often difficult to achieve.
[Insert montage of whimsical music while I re-read my review, smile to myself and nod because I accomplished the task at hand, and click publish. The music winds down as I close my laptop and leave it, the camera zooms in on my laptop and fades into darkness. Fin].