Jun 12, 2019
Welcome back for another review from yours truly, this time for an Asian-led Netflix Original romantic comedy that has been a hit with critics and fans alike. I’ll let you know my thoughts in a little bit, especially on the music, but for a few other Netflix Original romantic comedies, check out last year’s smash hit around this time, “Set It Up” (Episode #167), along with “When We First Met” (Episode #047), “Ali’s Wedding (Episode #164), and “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” (Episode #230).
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Here we go!
Today’s movie is “Always Be My Maybe”, the Netflix Original romantic comedy directed by Nahnatchka Khan, and written for the screen by Michael Golamco, Ali Wong, and Randall Park. The film follows the lives of Sasha Tran (Ali Wong) and Marcus Kim (Randall Park), two San Francisco friends reunited sixteen years later, who find old feelings arising, even as they are facing major turning points in their lives. The film also stars Keanu Reeves as Keanu Reeves playing Keanu Reeves, and he gets punched in the face.
No spoilers. Except that one. You know how we love punching!
I came late to romantic comedies during my movie watching career. Part of that was a form of genre gender-norming, which said action movies were for boys and romance movies were for girls. Many films are still developed and marketed towards particular demographics, and sometimes those films, or how you reacted to them, said real or perceived things about you. I remember seeing “While You Were Sleeping” with a group of male friends, because we missed our window to see “Jurassic Park” for the umpteenth time, and being viciously ridiculed for crying, which drove me away from romantic comedies almost altogether. It’s great to see those kinds of gender roles dissolving among younger generations, and more importantly, great to see the effect that’s having on the romantic comedies of today.
Romantic comedies are having a resurgence. I don’t think it’s just the expanding audience that comes with dissolving gender norms, but also the diversity in characters and relationships that are now available. Men don’t have to be aloof, emotionally brutish hunks winning someone’s heart. Women don’t have to be desperate, emotionally reactionary eye candy pining away for love. These cisgendered, heteronormative, monocultural stories are being replaced with more grounded stories, complex characters, complex relationships, and cultural diversity. Lots of options and lots of streaming service cash available to develop content. And in this resurgence, one of the films we’ll remember most is “Always Be My Maybe”.
“Always Be My Maybe” introduces us to Sasha and Marcus as neighbors in San Francisco back in the 1990s, quickly demonstrating their strong emotional bond and efficiently developing their backstories. We see some of those gender norms at play in Wong and Park’s first scene, which not only establishes the characters, but sets up their conflict prior to their sixteen-year absence from each other. It’s a classic setup, but it is also infused with the vibrancy of the Bay Area, and the subtleties of the Asian middle-class experience. Khan does a great job navigating these early scenes, putting all the pieces together, and setting the characters off on their haphazard journey towards each other, and in some ways, towards finding themselves.
Wong and Park are excellent as Sasha and Marcus, having a lot of input on the script, and melding their own experiences and talents into their characters. Wong deftly injects her stand-up material into the situations, not just the content, but the delivery and timing. Park was able to pull on his previous career as part of the 1990s Bay Area hip-hop crew, Ill Again, and worked with Lyrics Born and Dan the Automator on the lyrics and music for Marcus’ band, Hello Peril. It’s the second film that Dan the Automator has been involved with this year. I can only hope he is making enough to reopen the Handsome Boy Modelling School.
Of course, the show stealer is Keanu Reeves, playing himself as Sasha’s new boyfriend after ending her previous engagement. Reeves is fabulous, playing a completely ridiculous version of himself and his persona as characterized by media and fans alike. From his mysterious foreshadowing, to his restaurant entrance, to the weirdest game night ever, he was hilarious. Wong and Park weren’t even sure they could get Reeves to do it, but they were able to make it work. It’s so hilarious, in fact, it overshadows a lot of the rest of the film. Most people seem to talk a lot about Reeves in the film, but not a whole lot about Wong or Park, or the other great supporting characters. But we do get a great song, aptly titled “I Punched Keanu Reeves”, so I think it’s a fair trade.
“Always Be My Maybe” is an excellent, Asian-led romantic comedy from Ali Wong, Randall Park, Michael Golamco, and Nahnatchka Khan. The film brings new and modern perspectives to the romantic comedy genre, delivering a quality film, and perhaps one of the best supporting character performances ever by Keanu Reeves. Romantic comedy fans should definitely check out this film, along with anyone who loves stories set in the Bay Area.
Rotten Tomatoes: 91% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 8.2/10
“Always Be My Maybe” (2019) is rated PG-13 and is currently playing on Netflix.