The golden glow that halos around the two former lovers reconnecting in “See You Then” is tinged with melancholy. More than a decade has passed since the sudden breakup of Kris (Pooya Mohseni) and Naomi (Lynn Chen). Some things have changed, some things stayed the same.
That such an aphorism is easily applied to any number of “Before Sunrise”-style movies of people reminiscing and litigating what once was sets Mari Walker’s film at a disadvantage. But the chemistry of its stars gives the movie a curious magnetism that is almost enough to forgive its flaws.
The script, co-written by Walker and Kristen Uno, ebbs and flows in the specificity of its central characters’ lives and the rhetorical approach to their conversation topics. But while this screenplay lacks a verve or poetry in its language, Mohseni and Chen are able to work through it and find gestures that make their awkward and erotic energy feel sincere.
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In the time since the two parted, Kris has transitioned, has a job in network security and is visiting Los Angeles from Phoenix. Naomi is an art professor at their alma mater and is married with two children. After a nervous start, they ease into a familiar rapport. Dinner turns into drinks, small talk gives way into how they really are, becoming a vortex of past and present.
Chen gives Naomi an easy naturalism, her sense of regret textured and real. Mohseni’s line readings feel, at first, presentational, but her gaze is astonishing in its ability to convey longing and a mask of contentedness. Through their performances, they make it known, with brittle clarity, why the two were together and why they broke apart.