Slamdance 2023: Stars in the Ordinary Universe

Directed by: Bowon Kim
Distributed by: TBD

Written by Anna Harrison


Just as the multiverse itself is endless, so too is the quality of the slew of multiverse movies that have come out recently—most of them get churned out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe machine, but some, like “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” have the spark of originality to them. Bowon Kim’s first feature, “Stars in the Ordinary Universe,” has all the potential the multiverse can offer, but despite its best efforts (and believe me, Kim tries very hard to find that spark), it makes even the limitless multiverse boring to the point where its multiversal, multi-story nature seems pointless, and you wonder what the point of labeling “Stars in the Ordinary Universe” as a “multiverse movie” even is. 

Split into three slightly overlapping stories, “Stars in the Ordinary Universe’s” driving obsession is socioeconomic standing: the first story revolves around a high school girl (Seoyoon Park) obsessed with superior versus inferior genes; the second, a homeless man (Kyuho Sim) whose dreams of becoming president sputtered out; the third, a truth-teller (Dongmin Oh) who remains committed to honesty at the expense of his relationships. There is little to no dramatic thrust to these stories, and each protagonist feels too thinly sketched to be compelling, full of platitudes about life and photosynthesis that ring hollow amidst the emptiness of their own lives. I could go into more detail on their plots, but to be frank, I don’t remember half of it. 

The three have slight overlaps, which provides fun easter eggs but also makes you really, really scratch your head at the whole “multiverse” thing. Why say this is set in the multiverse when the characters cross over? Nothing is gained from this except pop culture goodwill, and even that’s a stretch; in fact, this movie would have been the exact same had Kim set it all on the same earth and simply split the movie into three short stories. The label of “multiverse” feels like a gimmick meant to attract eyeballs rather than a genuine exploration of what it means to exist in a vast, vast world. We are just small stars in an ordinary universe, but where this message can feel profound in a better movie, here it feels demeaning and cloying. There is a very fine line between sincerity and obviousness, and it takes a delicate touch to balance that—a touch that Kim doesn’t quite yet have. 

I do remember “Stars in the Ordinary Universe’s” style, however, and it’s here that Kim shows his strengths as a filmmaker. He has a flair with the camera that “Stars in the Ordinary Multiverse” lacks elsewhere, save for a couple of scenes involving a sentient rock and a talking cat, and while some of it leans too hard into “quirky” and it is often style over substance, at least “Stars in the Ordinary Universe” is fun to look at. If only the script had matched the style.

“Stars in the Ordinary Universe” Trailer

“Stars in the Ordinary Universe” is currently playing at the Slamdance Film Festival.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram, or her website.

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