June 2, 2019

Always Be My Maybe (2019)

Ali Wong, Randall Park

When Crazy Rich Asians came out, all the talk was about how ground-breaking it was. The first movie with an all Asian cast since 1994! (Not totally true, but also not far off.) And for all the excitement the movie (rightfully) earned, it didn't encompass the Asian-American experience. Crazy Rich Asians was a fantasy of sorts, with the expensive parties and travel and rich people politics of Chinese in Singapore. In fact, it makes almost no sense to compare the two movies to each other at all. Except, of course, that both movies are rom-coms that boast all-Asian casts, and therefore will probably always be lumped together until Asian-led movies become more of a regular occurrence.

But you know what? Fuck that nonsense. Diverse movies shouldn't have to compete against one another just because people aren't creative enough to see beyond the skin tone of the actors in it. So instead, I'm going to review Always Be My Maybe for what it really is: a good old fashioned rom-com.

It has all the classic trappings of a rom-com: a friends-to-lovers storyline, a friend to shortcut plot points that would otherwise seem implausible, an upbeat soundtrack, and of course, a grand romantic gesture. But the strength of this movie lies in the in-between--the little details between those major requirements that makes this movie feel different from every other rom-com.

For one thing, yeah, it's Asian. But beyond that, it's unapologetically Asian. People take their shoes off before walking into homes, even during parties. Moms do meal prep with scissors. People eat with metal chopsticks. Ali Wong's dad schemes to avoid paying tips. None of these things are a big deal, but when taken all together, woven throughout the entire movie, it becomes a sort of comfort--a familiarity for Asian-American viewers that isn't usually present in mainstream media.

Even more so, it was wonderful to see a narrative separate from the usual cold, dismissive parenting we usually see from Asian parents. Randall Park's parents didn't speak with accents. Everyone was't rich or smart. There was no talk of feeling alienated or "othered" in society. And most importantly, all the love interests were Asian men! Always Be My Maybe not only gives Asian-American viewers a nod to their lives, but a positive one at that. No trauma! No racism! No questioning their identity! (At least, racially.)

Then there are the jokes. Ali Wong is, of course, a real life comedian. So you'd expect the movie to be funny. But this had laugh-out-loud funny parts, many of them coming from her co-stars. Namely, Keanu Reeves, who basically stole the entire spotlight with his ridiculous turn as an ultra-serious, obnoxious version of himself. And if Randall's Park's band, Hello Peril, isn't nominated for a musical Oscar, it will be one of the biggest snubs of the year. Netflix even delayed their usual skip to previews at the end of Always Be My Maybe so that viewers could listen to the entirety of his song, "I Punched Keanu Reeves."

But some of the things I loved most about the movie were also what held it back for me. Because many of the jokes came at the expense of itself--spoofing the seriousness of romance and relationships--I found it's more earnest parts falling a bit short. It's difficult to both mock earnestness by having Keanu spoof himself, for example, and also have Ali Wong confess her feelings for Marcus in earnest at the exact same time. Perhaps that juxtaposition was what they were going for, but it didn't totally work for me.

I'm also not totally sold on Park's transformation, as I found him to be a smidge on the Judd Apatow side of potential boyfriends. I'm sure this will be met with lots of disagreement, but I found his total disregard of his girlfriend's entire industry to be both insulting and judgmental. And yeah, I might be taking this too seriously. After all, the jokes made at the expense of pretentious dinners were funny, and I myself have left a number of parties frustrated at the size of the food portions. But again, this is the industry in which she's built her career. And he sits there, criticizing her hard work without aspiring to anything himself.

But overall, the movie is exactly what a rom-com should be. It's funny, it's fun to watch, and it makes you feel good at the end of it. And even if the overarching plot isn't necessarily the best I've ever seen, my heart is so full to watch a screen full of Asian faces (Ali Wong's glasses collection in the movie is to die for) and lust after hot Asian men, watching them defy the racial stereotypes I grew up with. The fact that it's filmed in my current city and set to Bay Area music, is just the icing on the cake. Like I said, it's the details that make this movie.

Final word: Between this, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, and Crazy Rich Asians, I'm convinced the resurgence of the rom-com is being led by Asians.

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