Always Be My Maybe
Director - Nahnatchka Khan
Cast - Ali Wong, Randall Park, Daniel Dae Kim, Keanu Reeves
Rating - 3/5
Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. This is the basic tenet of romantic comedies. It also happens to extremely dated, especially if you take into account how passive the said ‘girl’ is in this scenario. Always Be My Maybe, the latest and best film in Netflix’s Summer of Love (2019 edition), is excessively dedicated to the rules of rom-coms - especially this one - but it is also quietly effective, and empowering in subtle and smart ways.
Starring a mostly South East Asian cast, the film isn’t quite the breath of fresh air as 2018’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before - mostly because even its most progressive ideas can’t help but feel somewhat passe - but it is certainly better than a lot of the other rom-coms the streaming service seems to be churning out on a monthly basis.
The comedienne Ali Wong plays successful chef Sasha Tran, trapped in a loveless relationship with hotshot restaurateur Brandon Choi (Daniel Dae Kim). When Brandon suggests they take a break - an idea he has on vacation in India, with Padma Lakshmi on his arm - Sasha in a fit of sadness moves back to her hometown of San Francisco, where she runs into Marcus Kim, her childhood best friend, played by Randall Park.
While Sasha was busy conquering the restaurant world, Marcus was stuck at home, working with his father in their plumbing business - not because of some misplaced sense of duty, but mostly because he’s stunningly unambitious. He spends his days ‘smoking weed and dancing in front of the mirror’ and his evenings with his band, playing local gigs and no longer even pretending that they’re destined for greatness.
Sasha’s return brings unnecessary complications to Marcus’ unremarkable life, and reawakens dormant feelings between the two. This gives the film an excuse to move on to the second most popular rom-com trope: Will they or won’t they.
Very few films actually have the courage to choose the second option and not bring its two leads together in the end. This is based mostly on the (incorrect) assumption that this is somehow worse. But take for example (500) Days of Summer, or even Her - two of the best romantic comedies of the last decade, and notice how well they subvert this expectation.
Always Be My Maybe isn’t as refreshing, conceptually, as those films, but it is quite path-breaking in other departments. For all its success, Crazy Rich Asians did little else for Asian representation than just that. It represented them. It was the first step. Always Be My Maybe is more concerned with the immigrant experience - like Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, it’s a delicate examination of the differences between first generation and second generation Asian Americans.
Keeping with its millennial vibe, however, Sasha and Marcus’ parents are happy. They aren’t.
A terrific sequence in San Francisco’s famous Chinatown adds a nice dash of cultural spice - Sasha is Chinese, Marcus is Korean - to the largely glossy film. Over dim sums and despair, they reconnect, and rediscover their priorities.
Always Be My Maybe, and last month’s Someone Great, aren’t just female-led films; their female leads also happen to belong to minorities, and aren’t at all like the traditional Hollywood ideal of what a rom-com star should be. Take a moment to appreciate that. If that doesn’t float your boat, watch it for a glorious 15-minute Keanu Reeves cameo.