Thursday, January 26, 2023

Slamdance ’23: Stars in the Ordinary Universe

The multiverse is not just for superheroes. This time, we traverse alternate planes to meet average people. In fact, they are sometimes exactly average and tragically ordinary. Self-awareness of their extraordinarily unexceptional nature becomes a cosmic challenge in Bowon Kim’s Stars in the Ordinary Universe, which world premiered at the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival.

You might not know this film is multiversal without the descriptive copy. It all certainly looks like our ‘verse. However, multiverse concepts might appeal to the teen girl in the first story. She frequently watches a science YouTuber, even though her grades are always precisely average for her class. She therefore takes exception to his crypto-Darwinism, because its implications question the necessity of her incredibly average existence.

The weakest segment follows the homeless man she saw watching porn in an internet café, or rather a different multiversal edition of him. He was raised to “dream big,” so he has always aspired to be president of the Republic of Korea, even when his mediocrity became undeniable.

The third strand follows a man who always knows the complete and utterly varnished truth and is pathologically compelled to tell every uncomfortable detail of it. Thematically, it does not fit so well with its predecessors, but it is amusing. Basically, it plays like an
SNL skit from the early 1990s, back when the show was funny.

Ordinary Universe
is the definition of a festival film. Its commercial theatrical prospects are limited, but it is clever, in a distinctive, rarified way. It addresses some big ideas, in an off-kilter fashion, especially the first segment. The sporting cast also mines a good deal of deadpan humor from the cerebral material. It isn’t exactly Everything, Everywhere All at Once reconceived by Hong Sang-soo, but maybe that is an okay starting reference point, along with the Harmony Korine-Alexey Fedorchenko anthology film, The Fourth Dimension.

Exploring the meaning of life through humor is a worthy undertaking, rarely attempted with this level of eccentricity. Kim’s ambition is impressive. It is nice to see something different—and this film definitely qualifies as that. Recommended for fans of philosophical microbudget science fiction, Stars in the Ordinary Universe screens online
through Sunday (1/29) online, as part of Slamdance ’23.