“Always Be My Maybe”, which was released on Netflix this Friday, is a conventional romantic film which could be a bit better in my trivial opinion. Although it is equipped with two engaging lead performers to watch, it occasionally feels flat due to its deficiency in terms of detail and personality, and that is a shame considering that there are some genuinely funny parts which make the movie almost enough for recommendation.
Randall Park and Ali Wong, who have been mainly known for TV sitcom series “Fresh off the Boat” and are also the co-writers/co-producers of the movie, play Marcus Kim and Sasha Tran, two young Asian Americans who were once very close friends during their childhood and adolescent years in San Francisco. Because Tran’s Vietnamese parents were frequently absent as running their store, young Tran often came to young Marcus’ house which happened to be right next to Sasha’s, and Marcus and his Korean parents were always happy to have a dinner along with Sasha. Thanks to Marcus’ mother, Sasha could eat something other than Spam and rice, and she also came to be interested in cooking under the gentle guidance of Marcus’ mother.
Anyway, Sasha and Marcus had remained friendly with each other during next several years, and they eventually came to have their first sexual experience in Marcus’ car, but then they became distant to each other especially after Sasha left her hometown. 16 years later, she now becomes a famous chef currently engaged to a guy who has been known well for his prominent restaurant chain, and she surely feels like making a glorious homecoming when she returns to San Francisco for opening her new restaurant there.
Of course, it does not take much time for Sasha to reunite with Marcus, who, unlike her, has stayed in their old neighborhood during last 16 years. When he does not perform with the members of his band at some modest spot in their neighborhood, he usually works along with his father, and he has been pretty content with his life although his life does not seem to be going anywhere as he is not so eager to step further for himself or his band.
Although both of them see how much things have changed between them since they happened to be drifted away from each other, Sasha and Marcus soon find themselves attracted to each other again, and this process is further accelerated when Sasha becomes more aware of what a self-absorbed guy her fiancé is. Instead of coming to San Francisco along with her, he decided to go to India for his business, and he even suggested that they should be away from each other for a while for confirming the strength of their relationship. Not so surprisingly, Sasha eventually dumps this prick, and that leads to quite an awkward moment which could be funnier if it were handled with better comic timing and scene composition.
Meanwhile, Marcus keeps hesitating to take any forward step toward Sasha mainly because he is currently in a relationship with Jenny (Vivian Bang), who is your average Asian American pixie girl. After hearing his father’s sincere advice, he finally decides to be more direct about his feeling toward Sasha, but, alas, she already happens to get involved with a certain famous movie star, whom the trailer of the movie unfortunately revealed in advance.
The movie reaches to its comic highpoint when Marcus and Sasha join this movie star and Jenny for spending one evening along with them. Park and Wong are effortless in the awkward tension between their characters during this part, and their deft comic interactions are accentuated well by two other performers accompanying them, who are convincing in their characters’ complete obliviousness to what has been going on between Marcus and Sasha.
Unfortunately, after this uproarious part, the movie goes downhill as taking a very predictable route for its two main characters. It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that they eventually succumb to their old romantic feeling, and you will not be that surprised when they subsequently come to conflict with each other over a matter you probably saw from the very beginning.
And it is very disappointing to see that the movie does not pay much attention to whatever is cooked by Sasha or some other characters in the movie. While I was certainly delighted to see a certain common Korean dish on the screen, it does not appear as much as I hoped, and I was only served with a series of silly hipster dishes which did not particularly impress me much.
At least, Wong and Park carry the movie well together, and they are also surrounded by several colorful supporting performers. While Michelle Buteau is fun to watch as Sasha’s no-nonsense lesbian assistant who is also her best friend, Vivian Bang brings considerable life and personality to her thankless role, and the aforementioned movie star, who, as far as I heard from others, is one of the nicest and coolest guys in Hollywood, does not flinch at all from looking alternatively goofy and obnoxious for getting more laughs from us.
In conclusion, “Always Be My Maybe” is notable as another recent major romantic comedy film revolving around Asian American characters, but it is less satisfying compared to “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” (2018), and I think director Nahnatchka Khan and his writers should have imbued their story and characters with more spirit and personality. Sure, I did have some chuckles during my viewing, but the overall result is still rather mediocre, and I can only hope that there will be similar but better films in the future.