One of the best things about dedicating yourself to watching a lot of movies is the exposure to genres you might otherwise avoid. For me, that has mostly been romantic films. It’s not that I lack an appreciation for movies about love, but too often they come off as cliche, boring, or, worse, irreflective of reality. The exception (at least for me) is the romantic comedy which I know from the outset I never have to take seriously and I can kick back to enjoy the humor. It’s not that romantic comedies don’t have the same flaws as romantic movies – they do – but that change in expectation makes those flaws, more or less, ignorable.
I am happy to report that the 2019 Netflix romantic comedy, “Always Be My Maybe” is a fun movie to watch assuming you expect to ignore all of the flaws and foibles of most romantic comedies.
Starring Randall Park (I love him) as Marcus and Ali Wong as Sasha, the two were best friends in childhood before teenage hormones and the lack of honest communication that comes with them pushed them apart. Years later, we are reintroduced to their adult versions as Sasha, now a celebrity chef, and Marcus, who still lives at home, meet again. Will they get over their baggage? Are they still in love after all this time? Will they overcome their own personal flaws to be the person each knows they can be?
“Always Be My Maybe” is a by-the-numbers romantic comedy, but it rarely feels like it. The performances, the writing, and the characters, all manage to elevate the form just enough to make this a really fun film. Much of the story reflects on both Sasha and Marcus’s experiences as young Asian-Americans, and I am sure those experiences are taken directly from the writers, both Park and Wong themselves (as well as Michael Golamco, another Asian-American). As such, the film has an authenticity and realness that I found fascinating and Diane found relatable.
As a romantic comedy, the film does a good job of avoiding some of the more toxic pitfalls of the genre. Marcus still living at home comes off as genuine. He lost his mother as a teenager, and he feels the need to stay with his dad who always wants to give his son enough space to leave when he feels it necessary. Marcus isn’t a loser or unsuccessful at life. His decision to stay, while an obvious inability to live up to his true potential, is depicted as mostly a valid choice. It’s only when he uses that choice as an excuse not to branch out that the story starts depicting it otherwise.
Similarly, with Sasha, from the beginning of the movie, she is depicted as having to live on her own and take care of herself. Her love of cooking comes from time spent with Marcus’s family who lived next door (specifically his mom who teaches her the secrets of Korean food, like using scissors). The movie very easily could have painted Sasha’s parents as wanting to take advantage of her fame and fortune, but it never goes there either. Instead, we get a minor side plot where they admit they were not there enough for their daughter and want to find ways of mending their relationship. It’s incredibly wholesome.
Speaking of wholesome, it would be impossible to ignore “Always Be My Maybe”’s cameo, especially after our review of the mostly wholesome “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. Keanu Reeves makes an appearance as Sasha’s love interest and every scene with him is absolutely fantastic. I will not spoil more than that.
Beyond Ali Wong and Randall Park, I want to give a nod to James Saito as Marcus’s dad, Harry. I have no idea who this character is based on, but I found him to be one of the most charming and sincere characters in the entire film. Saito captures the character perfectly. When Diane mentioned he was Shredder in the first “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie, I was taken aback that someone so charming and caring also played a character that haunted me as a child.
“Always Be My Maybe” does little to move the romantic comedy forward. It still is an important film. In a genre plagued with cliche and so often written to appeal broadly to a mostly white America, it’s good to see a film more reflective of modern day America that doesn’t dwell overlong on issues of race (and doesn’t ignore them either). This is the kind of United States I want to live in: one where our cultural histories and backgrounds inform who we are but never impede who we can be. In making something so familiar feel so fresh with a new perspective, Park and Wong have made a movie that would feel good to watch at any time with anyone.