“Crazy Rich Asians” opened up a much-needed window into the Asian-American experience. It was also charming and surprisingly funnier that I expected. I was anxious to see what films would follow in its footsteps to broaden the field and offer up new perspectives.
One such film is “Always Be My Maybe”, a Netflix romantic comedy and directorial debut of Nahnatchka Khan. The film follows Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park) who as children grew up as best friends and next-door neighbors in San Francisco. An argument during their late teen years pushed them apart and (As many kids do) they went their separate ways.
Sixteen years later Sasha is a celebrity chef and rising star in the culinary world. She’s engaged to hunky but narcissistic Brandon (Daniel Dae Kim) and is about to open her new restaurant in the Bay Area. Marcus is still in San Francisco, content living with and working for his widowed father and spending his spare time smoking weed and playing with his neighborhood band.
Their lives have went in dramatically different directions, but when they unexpectedly cross paths again it’s clear that deep down they are still the same people who once had such a tight-knit bond. Now they will have to navigate through sixteen years of baggage and their own stubbornness to see if things can finally work out between them.
“Always Be My Maybe” stands or falls or the chemistry of its two leads. The entire story is dependent on it which is both good and bad. It’s good simply because Wong and Park are great together. Their conversations and needling banter flows naturally and (much like with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in The Before trilogy) you can sense their contributions to the writing process. But it’s bad in that many of the film’s weaker scenes are when they are apart.
You could also argue that the comedy itself is too uneven. Most of the time it’s simply amusing relying heavily on the playful back-and-forths between Sasha and Marcus. But when a certain red-hot entertainment phenomenon appears, the comedy takes a different form, moving from amusing to laugh-out-loud hilarious. Yes, Keanu Reeves pops up for a short time and unquestionably steals the show. And once he’s gone we downshift from hilarious back to amusing. Hardly a huge issue, but it sure leaves you itching for the Keanu-level humor to come back.
Several other nagging issues hold the film back. As most of these films tend to be, “ABMM” is utterly predictable almost from the start and you can see it checking off numerous socially hip boxes. We also get the outspoken best friend character which must be a modern rom-com necessity. Michelle Buteau gives a good performance and she has a handful of good lines, but it’s the same old character we’ve seen a billion times and who is only there to fill a role.
But back to Wong and Park. They may not be able to fully cover all of the movie’s issues, but they make “ABMM” worth your time. Their easy-going chemistry works great with the film’s relaxed rhythms. But that’s about all the movie has to offer. If you’re hungry for anything deeper or more original you’re probably not going to leave satisfied.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS