Netflix Dishes out Another Boilerplate Romcom With ‘Always Be My Maybe’


What does Always Be My Maybe mean? To me it sounds like a side-chick or whatever the male equivalent is of somebody being the second choice in an otherwise solid relationship. For Sasha Tran (comedian Ali Wong) and Marcus Kim (Randall Park) there’s no maybe about it. After being raised as childhood friends they awkwardly get together one night before heading off to college never to see each other until they run into each other again as adults when her friend hires his moving company. They reconnect and the film undergoes the tireless romantic comedy formula treatment: will they/ won’t they? (they will) What’s stopping them? (current relationships) Rinse repeat.

I admire the film’s modest goals of providing a romantic Asian male lead not typically seen (Crazy Rich Asians & Edge of Seventeen are recent exceptions). The film’s choice of Randall Park who has cultivated a slew of minimal yet memorable characters over the last decade (The Office, Veep, Fresh Off the Boat, The Interview, Ant-Man & The Wasp, Aquaman) is a strong one. If there’s anybody who could make a character from a boilerplate romcom it’s him. Even though they have equal writing credit, along with Michael Golamco (Grimm, upcoming Akira remake), I imagine Ali Wong might have been more of a force behind getting the film made due to her history with Netflix (A stand up special Baby Cobra) but it’s just my speculation and filmmaking is a collaborative art. An additional creative voice, Nahmatchka Khan (Don’t Trust The B– In Apartment 23) makes her feature directorial debut, helping deliver on the comedic elements of the film without reaching the heights of her TV show.

The movie is aware its greater strength is in its comedy. My favourite character was Wong’s friend Veronica played by Michelle Buteau. She helps cut through some of the film’s typical romcom crap upending traditional character expectations which the film also finds in Park’s cool on-screen father played by James Saito. In fact every time the film deviates from the norm it gets more interesting such as the film’s most talked about moment when Wong’s character brings a legitimate celebrity date into the picture who plays himself. It’s a perfect casting choice rather than the lazy Simpsonian “OMG celebrity X! I can’t believe you’re here!” trope. Her date represents everything Park’s character is not and their presence actually advances the plot.

Romantically speaking the film totally flops. Park’s character is a bit too broad to suit his slob persona. Forget the fact that him and Wong are 8 years apart (same as my parents) it is a bit tough to believe them as childhood friends. I wish I could have seen more earlier scenes considering how integral their childhood friendship is as a foundation of their relationship. Dipping into Seth Rogen/ Apatow-style territory of an overgrown manchild makes him a bit harder to root for. The movie positions his connection to his hometown roots as a strength, but in typical Netflix fashion the film is so shallow and non-specific about the San Francisco community beyond namechecks, it adds about as much character to the city as the recent Godzilla films. That Wong’s character is pretty much perfect from the start and knows who she is does not make her that compelling. The movie flirts with being critical of her childhood views but never amounts to more than a few lines. You’re on her side the whole time and that never changes. I look at this film as a proof of concept for something greater. It’s sad that an Asian male romantic lead has to be proven somehow, but this film’s effort to correct Hollywood apathy as simply and unfussy as it can is admirable. I just prefer movies that are cap stones and not stepping stones.

Tidbits:

  • Ali Wong jokes she made this movie  just so she could make out with Daniel Day Kim and her celebrity date. She’s a smart lady.
  • Daniel Dae Kim is criminally underused, I wonder how he got into character playing a famous celebrity who has 6x’s less instagram followers than he does
  • The reverse Point of View shot (featured image) of one character standing pointing at another while nothing is said is so cheesy it makes me laugh. When it finally appears in the film I stopped it wondering if the film would reach a greater height (which comes at the emotional climax of the film). It comes close with the heartfelt finale, but no cigar.

Spoilers in the trailer.

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