I’m going to start this review off by saying that I haven’t laughed at a romantic comedy in a very long time. Probably at least since Sandra Bullock captured our hearts in Miss Congeniality. Which brings me to my next point. If you want to capture the hearts of audiences in your romantic comedy, the actors should actually be funny. And willing to make fun of themselves.
I’m proud to say that Always Be My Maybe checks that box with a big fat checkmark. Ali Wong, American Housewife) and Randall Park (Aquaman), are two accomplished comedy actors. They are notably of Fresh off the Boat fame, though they both have a long list of other acting credits. Ali Wong, in particular, has had a long career in stand-up. They are terrific, and they own this movie with their torrid love affair.
Randall Park and Ali Wong, of course, make this brilliant comedy film shine with their writing and acting. The pair have always had mutual respect for each others’ projects. But have always wanted to create a rom-com together, writing it together along with Michael Golamco. Always Be My Maybe, and the food in it, are a love letter to their own Korean and Vietnamese cultures, and to San Francisco itself.
Always Be My Maybe might be formulaic in its charm, but it has charm nonetheless. The story begins with two childhood friends who live next door to each other in San Francisco, a Vietnamese girl named Sasha Tran and a Korean boy named Marcus Kim. There’s time spent setting up their friendship in their early years. Sasha Tran is a latchkey kid in the 90’s who eats dinner and watches TV alone night after night while her parents run their Vietnamese restaurant.
Marcus Kim invites Sasha into his home and his life, where Marcus’ mom Judy shows Sasha how to do her Korean cooking. Sasha and Marcus become inseparable. Until one fateful day, Marcus’ mother dies tragically in a car accident. The two are grieving afterward, and in an emotional state have sex in Marcus’ car. But the couple has a long, loud argument soon afterward. And they wreck a relationship that isn’t getting patched up anytime soon.
Fast forward about 16 years, and Sasha Tran (Ali Wong), is a rising star. She has worked hard at cooking and school to becoming a celebrity chef and has moved away from San Francisco. She’s engaged to Brandon Choi (Daniel Dae Kim, Hellboy, The Cave), a charming, successful older man who is a restauranteur. But Sasha is set to go back to her home San Fran to open up her own new restaurant. Brandon postpones their wedding yet again, and she breaks up with him. She moves to San Francisco into a beautiful temporary home that doesn’t have air conditioning, so her best friend and manager Veronica (Michelle Buteau, The Tick) dials up Harry Kim (James Saito, The Terror, Iron Fist), Marcus’ father, who runs a Heating and A/C business.
Enter Marcus Kim (Randall Park). Marcus has, during this time, still been living with his father. Marcus hasn’t moved on after his mom’s death. He’s still sleeping in the same bedroom he grew up in of his childhood home and takes care of his dad, Harry Kim. And Marcus is dating a fellow Asian-American. She’s a free-spirited girl named Jenny (Vivian Bang), kind of a hippie who wears dreadlocks. Marcus works with his father at his business, and also plays in a band with his friends. The band is quite good, a hip-hop fusion quartet. They have serious potential. But they haven’t moved up from being a “block” band, yet.
Initially, Marcus’ and Sasha’s relationship has some antagonistic edges that need some smoothing out. But by the time Sasha has caught up with Harry Kim, a man like a father to her, she has mellowed out some. And by the time Marcus invites her to see his band play, it appears that all is forgiven after their teenage tryst. But can Marcus keep up with the relentless pace -- and celebrity -- of Sasha’s life? Is he ready for his band to go to places? Is he ready to move on from the death of his mom? And is Sasha ready to slow down her breakneck pace, to allow her busy celebrity chef life a little more dimension?
It’s difficult to describe just how funny Always Be My Maybe is. Randall Park’s hip-hop prowess is a great way to get the ball rolling on the plot. And a lot of Always Be My Maybe’s magic has to do with Ali Wong, Randall Park, and Michael Golamco writing the movie. The dialogue and humor feels fresh and unanticipated, not stale. The supporting performances also give the movie life.
Everyone from James Saito, Vivian Bang, Michelle Buteau, and Lyrics Born to Karan Soni of Deadpool fame offers up their own brand of awkward humor here. James Saito was my personal favorite, with Karani Soni being a close second. And through the entire film runs the heartbeat of San Francisco life, with gorgeous settings, slam poetry nightclubs, and hip-hop, and a view of that Golden Gate bridge.
Always Be My Maybe explores some of the familiar tried-and-true ideas of rom-coms, while giving it a whole new flavor. And the film will always be so much more than a romantic comedy for future generations. The film is a smart, cheeky nod to foodies. It has witty social commentary and dynamic family relationships which both offer a fuller look at Asian culture. It’s all wrapped up in heart and the most delightful second-hand embarrassment comedy. And finally, to be garnished with the sweetest, and most novel ending.
Always Be My Maybe is available on Netflix Canada as of May 29th.