MOVIE OF THE WEEK June 7, 2019: ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE

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motw logo 1-35Even when you have a pretty strong sense of how it’s going to end, there’s something immensely appealing about a good, old-fashioned romantic comedy; they’re the comfort food of movies. And while Nahnatchka Khan’s “Always Be My Maybe” is, thankfully, refreshingly NEW-fashioned in terms of representation — and has some genuinely surprising comic elements — it’s exactly the kind of romcom that’s perfect to curl up in front of on a Saturday night. (Plus, it has a subplot all about actual comfort food, so there’s that.)

Co-starring and co-written by Ali Wong and Randall Park — both of whom have worked on Fresh Off the Boat with Khan (Park in front of the camera and Wong on the writing staff) — “Always Be My Maybe” centers on childhood best friends Sasha (Wong) and Marcus (Park). Next-door neighbors in San Francisco as kids, they end up having an awkward hook-up as teens and then argue, losing touch for more than 15 years. Fate brings them back together when Sasha — now a celebrity chef — returns to San Francisco to open her newest restaurant. Sure, they’re both with other people, but this is a romcom; sparks are bound to fly.

The inevitable obstacles complicate things, but it doesn’t take a screenwriter to know that these BFFs are meant to be together. Along the way, they deal with unresolved issues (Marcus is very much stuck in young adulthood, and Sasha is afraid to let anyone get close to her), exchange clever quips, and have a hilarious run-in with a real-life movie star, who appears to have a grand time spoofing himself for the film.

Wong’s decidedly blue humor is toned down to PG-13-friendly levels here, though a few of Sasha’s angry rants bring the comedian’s hysterical stand-up specials to mind. And Park is wryly funny, especially when Marcus is making observations about Sasha’s over-the-top lifestyle. Both of the main characters are portrayed without stereotyping, making “Always Be My Maybe” another welcome example of positive representation in mainstream cinema. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Susan Wloszczyna: Always Be My Maybe is a scrumptious rom-com, as it should be since it revolves around an ambitious L.A. female celebrity chef and the literal boy next door she never stopped loving. When she opens a restaurant in her hometown of San Francisco, their paths awkwardly cross again. Sure, it is madly indebted to Crazy Rich Asians but it is less soapy and more hip to the minute with cultural references, ranging from Boys Don’t Cry and Uber pools to Padma Lakshmi and Tom Ford suits. But the freshest ingredient is the adorbs chemistry between its two stars, Ali Wong as Sasha and Randall Park as Marcus, one of the main writers and the leading man from the sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. Keeping it all in the TV family, the ABC show’s executive producer Nahnatchka Khan is making her directorial debut. The movie, which is playing in theaters and on Netflix, feels more TV-ish than cinematic but the game cast and clever dialogue is plenty compensation. It’s best not to reveal too much, but one of richest sources of running gags involves none other than Keanu Reeves, who is of Asian descent, having a blast playing himself as an arrogant snob and all-around jerk. The payoff to his amusing antics arrives during the end credits as Park’s character brag-raps about their encounter.

MaryAnn Johanson What an absolutely delightful movie! A smart, modern romantic comedy that’s actually both amusing and realistically romantic, one in which the hangups keeping the central will-they/won’t-they couple apart not artificial barriers invented just to keep the plot rolling but neuroses and anxieties that spring from deep within the characters. It flips the typical rom-com script with a female lead who is more successful than the guy, and asks that he sacrifice to be with her. And, oh yeah, the leads are all Asian-American, all very different — no tokens here! — and all rooted in Asian-American culture that is also specifically *American.* This is a great example of how making room for new voices and new perspectives onscreen results in stories we haven’t seen before. And that’s just more fun for everyone. Read full review

Sheila Roberts Netflix’s new Rom-com, Always Be My Maybe, is a refreshing love story smartly directed by Nahnatchka Khan in her feature debut, starring the charming Ali Wong and Randall Park as childhood sweethearts who part ways after a spat then bump into each other 15 years later. Wong and Park deliver sparkling performances as Sasha and Marcus who now live in vastly different worlds and share little in common — or so they think. Read full review.

Marina Antunes Romantic comedies seem to be back in fashion these days and they’re as good as they’ve ever been. The latest addition, Nahnatchka Khan’s feature film debut Always Be My Maybe, is as good as they come. Co-written by and starring comedian Ali Wong, this tale of childhood friends reconnecting as adults features well rounded characters, sharp cultural observations, and great performances in a film which is frank, funny and full of heart.

Jennifer Merin Nahnatchka Khan’s Always Be My Maybe is a refreshingly breezy Asian-American romcom, replete with some entertaining twists on the meme and pointedly satirical darts directed at character stereotyping, food snobbery and Keanu Reeves. Kahn’s feature film debut is well crafted and well paced with a brisk and satisfying flow of hilariously funny and sobering moments. The ensemble is impressive and inclusive, and their comedic timing is spot on. Always Be My Maybe is a very sweet and satisfying movie.

Sandie Angulo Chen: Ali Wong and Russell Park’s When Harry Met Sally-inspired Netflix romcom Always Be My Maybe is an absolute joy to watch. The two stars — dear friends who also wrote and produced the film together — not only have spot-on chemistry, but they’ve made a pan-Asian American romantic comedy that’s representational and universal. In this case, their friends-to-more/second-chance love story is about former best friends Sasha Tran (Wong) and Marcus Kim (Park), once neighbors who were inseparable from childhood through adolescence but then grew estranged. Sasha, a celebrity chef, returns to the Bay Area to open a new restaurant and reconnects with Marcus, an air/heating tradesman, after a 15-year silence. Park, best known as the father in Fresh Off the Boat, is charming as a lovable loser; it’s a shame he had to wait until 45 to play a leading man. Wong, who starred in two hit Netflix comedy specials, is once again delightful as ambitious Sasha. Veteran Japanese American actor James Saito gives a fabulously nuanced performance as Marcus’ supportive and wise father. Michelle Buteau is also a stand out as Sasha’s assistant and lifelong friend. Lastly, Keanu Reeves pops up for brief but scene-stealing sequence that’s brilliantly laugh aloud. This is exactly the romcom the world needs right now.

Leslie Combemale Always Be My Maybe is a continuation of Netflix leaning into the belief that rom-coms are viable, especially when they feature a diverse cast. There should be plenty of romantics and lovers of great comedy who will be here for it. Helmed by female filmmaker Nahnatchka Khan, and co-written by Ali Wong, the film stars Wong and Randall Park as childhood friends Sasha and Marcus, who meet and grow close again as adults, and there are lots of interesting characters and laugh-out-loud moments to be had. One memorable albeit trick plot point involving Keanu Reeves is particularly fun. Audiences will enjoy longtime friends Wong and Park’s genuine love for each other, even if their sexual chemistry doesn’t pack quite the same punch. They don’t have the glamour or movie star looks of those in Crazy Rich Asians, but that only makes them more relatable and interesting to watch. Note to Hollywood: It would be great for studios to produce more features with Asian leads, so the options include characters representing the full spectrum of what exists in our world. If you build it, we will come.

Nell Minow: Always Be My Maybe combines a thorough understanding of romantic comedy traditions — adorable characters with tons of chemistry, glamorous settings, misunderstandings, and a happy ending — with an updated sensibility that includes some gentle satire of food culture and some details of Asian culture that make it seem fresh and modern. With a script co-written and produced by the two lead performers the film has a level of comfort and authenticity of experience that adds to its appeal.

Loren King There’s a lot to like in Nahnatchka Khan’s rom-com about two childhood besties in San Francisco who grow up, grow apart, go their separate ways, reunite and … well, you know the formula. Having the two leads played by Asian Americans (Ali Wong and Randall Park who also get writing credit) is a welcome variation on the very familiar When Harry met Sally retread, as is the wacky extended cameo by Keanu Reeves, playing himself and having a blast. Khan is best known as a producer and writer for ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat and though the film is sit-com bland and predictable, there’s enough flavor to make it enjoyable escapist entertainment.

Elizabeth Whittemore What makes Nahnatchka Khan’s Always Be My Maybe so fun is it’s ability to be both awkward and honest. Love is weird and wonderful and messy and complicated. The script, which was penned by stars Ali Wong and Randall Park, is authentic and surprising even if it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. But I would also call the script funnier and less predictable with its ancillary characters exhibiting just as much quirk as our leads, and the genuinely pointed take on “high end” restaurant food culture. The film speaks to a feeling of growth and home and the soundtrack is also age specific to these two characters’ past. Some newer music is a damn pleasure to experience. A certain Hollywood leading man makes quite the hilarious showing playing a caricature of himself. It’s one of the best sections of the film. Oh, and sit through the credits. Trust me on this. Wong and Park have the chemistry of two people who hare known each other for years, which was most likely helped by the fact that Wong is one of the writers on the sitcom, Fresh Off the Boat, starring Park and directed by Khan. Always Be My Maybe is entirely enjoyable and undoubtedly laugh out loud funny, beginning to end.

Cate Marquis In director Nahnatchka Khan’s Always Be My Maybe, an Asian American girl and boy grow up best friends in San Francisco. A fight, a misunderstanding, breaks that bond, just as friendship is turning to love, and they go their separate ways. Sixteen years later, she is a successful celebrity chef living in LA, while he is working with in his father’s heating and cooling business and still playing his band. When Sasha Tran (Ali Wong) comes home to San Francisco to open her newest restaurant, she finds herself face to face with Marcus (Randall Park) for the first time since high school. What starts out as pretty standard romantic comedy takes a turn towards the hilarious with a scene in an extremely pretentious restaurant. No spoilers, but it’s not Sasha’s, but after that point the film lets loose on a host of things like tiny portions at astronomical prices, celebrities (chef and otherwise), hundred-dollar torn tee-shirts, and other such cultural trends. Not surprisingly, food is a running theme here, starting with pre-teen Sasha joining Marcus’ family next door for dinner every night, and her love of Marcus’ mom and her cooking. Authenticity versus trendiness is also a theme, along with friendship, family, ambition, self-doubt, and true love, in this surprisingly funny, warm, slightly quirky spin on the rom com.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: Always Be My Maybe

Directors: Nahnatchka Khan

Release Date: May 31, 2017

Running Time: 101 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Michael Golamco, Randall Park, Ali Wong

Principle Cast: Keanu Reeves, Randall Park, Ali Wong

Distribution Company: Netflix

Trailer

Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore and Susan Wloszczyna

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).