East Bay is a new comedy by Daniel Yoon and starring Constance Wu about the pressure to be successful, happy, and special. The film follows several unmarried professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area who grew up believing anything is possible, and that an ordinary life is a meaningless life. But now in their thirties and forties, they realize they’re failing in their careers, in their relationships, and financially.
Sara copes by practicing mindfulness, Stuart with video games, Tim with cannabis, and Vivanti by being a minor celebrity guru. And Jack makes offensive short films. He knows he’s failed his immigrant parents. But frantically trying to be successful at this point would just be pitiful. So with Vivanti’s guidance he half-heartedly pursues spirituality as a face-saving solution, and in the process unexpectedly throws the others' lives into upheaval.
My first feature film – the award winning Post Concussion (1999) – was a partly autobiographical story about a cocky, successful management consultant whose life changes in surprising and funny ways following a serious head injury. In the process he learns humility and becomes a much better person. So in the end, he sidesteps catastrophe by conveniently finding a new and different way to be successful.
This always weighed on me. Must every moment in our lives be reduced to success vs failure? Do we need success so badly that we feel we must repurpose our grief and disappointment into nice but phony narratives about our lives?
So I wrote East Bay (originally titled Low Budget Ethnic Movie), in which the main character Jack obsesses about these questions, and maddeningly drags his feet on getting his act together and moving forward in life. Which is, let's face it, totally unacceptable and frankly un-American.