Just when we thought that rom-com is dying, the rom-com revivalist pseudo-movement resurgences. With fresh rom-coms in the recent memory like The Big Sick (2017), Crazy Rich Asians (2018), To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018), Love, Simon (2018) and the lots of them, we’ve learned that rom-coms have evolved and, most importantly, expanded to the area that Hollywood hasn’t dared to explore back in the last decade or beyond. The usual sugarcoated sub-genre has now turned its head to a more discursive method, where the romance is not the only context that matters, and a more diverse topic about culture, representation, sexuality and more. Fresh Off the Boat creator, Nahnatchka Khan, adds an entry into the growing list with Always Be My Maybe, an Asian-American rom-com fueled by the creative minds of Ali Wong and Randall Park.
Crazy Rich Asians gives an interesting preface to the discourse of American-born Asians (the book and the movie specifically mention the term as ABC—American-Born Chinese) as a comparative study; Always Be My Maybe delves a little bit deeper to the life of the American-Born Asians and how they live and love. Penned by Wong—an Chinese-Vietnamese-American stand-up comedian and Park—an Korean-American actor known for his role in The Interview and Fresh Off the Boat along with Michael Golamco, this rom-com blends some been-there-done-that formula with thoughtful insight from the traits that define both of the leads. It is as simple as a story about childhood friends who end up falling for each other as they grow up; but, it’s way lot deeper and smarter than just it.
Wong is Sasha Tran, a rising celebrity chef who will move from big city to another for opening of some new fancy restaurants or simply for gala dinners, where she might slide from one red carpet to another. Park is Marcus Kim, frontman of a local band, Hello Peril, who also works casually and looks after his widowed father. Sasha and Marcus used to be close as they grew up together; but, they haven’t spoken to each other since an incident happened after Marcus’ mother passed away. The childhood friends are finally reunited again when Sasha returns to her hometown opening a new restaurant, while Marcus practically has never left. There’s an exchange of dialogues midway throughout the movie to explain the titular phrase and to simply highlight how such a simple story makes a sweet yet exhilarating one.
The recipe is quite simple: it’s the chemistry between Wong and Park, which makes it as if they’re not acting; as if they’re real childhood friends falling in love with each other. The rest of the recipes might tick off most of the rom-com clichés, but Wong and Park “elevate” them, making it as if the whole movie is effortless. The exchange of interactions between the leads are simply witty and delightful. It’s easy to fall in love with the characters; and, everyone knows that’s the key to the most memorable rom-coms.
Some of the movie’s most unforgettable comedic moments are adeptly written; not only they’re funny, but they’re undoubtedly clever. There is one moment where Sasha and Marcus dine in at an authentic Cantonese restaurant; the scene might simply look ordinary, but it works way deeper to bring up some cultural subtexts of the whole story. Marcus will later call back to this scene in an argument with Sasha by only bringing up the subtexts. That’s how enticing the screenplay of the movie works—subtle and yet bold, funny and yet insightful at the same time.
When you thought that a clever Asian-American-centered romance is safe enough, then Always Be My Maybe unleashes Keanu Reeves, making one of the most iconic self-referential cameos in the recent history. After the super-satisfying John Wick – Chapter 3: Parabellum, this is definitely an exhilarating back-to-back appearance from the hearthrob. Anyway, with or without Reeves’ cameo, it’s safe to say that while seemingly only ticking off some major rom-com to-do list, Always Be My Maybe is elevated by Ali Wong & Randall Park’s individual and collective performance channeling the insecurity of American-born Asians.
Always Be My Maybe (2019)
Romance, Comedy Directed by: Nahnatchka Khan Written by: Michael Golamco, Randall Park, Ali Wong Starred by: Randall Park, Ali Wong, Michelle Buteau, Keanu Reeves Runtime: 101 mins