By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Surprise! There’s another new Netflix film that’s out — and this time, it’s a romantic comedy.
“Always Be My Maybe” stars comedian Ali Wong, best known for her Netflix comedy specials “Baby Cobra” and “Hard Knock Wife,” and Randall Park, who currently stars in the ABC sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat.” The screenplay was written by Wong, Park, and writer Michael Golamco, with “Fresh Off the Boat” showrunner Nahnatchka Khan at the helm as director.
Set initially in San Francisco, the movie opens with Sasha (Wong) and Marcus (Park) as children. The first 10 minutes shows a charming scene between young Sasha and Marcus, which builds to a montage of the characters throughout their adolescence, and comes to a head in an awkward sexual encounter gone awry in their late teens.
Though this incident is the impetus for the characters’ fallout, these first 10 minutes felt forced.
Park and Wong know comedy, and they do that well, but a serious family event forces the two to briefly turn on their drama chops. And it felt hokey. The film’s beginning generally came across as a contrived attempt at getting the viewer to care about these characters as adults.
In the present day, Sasha and Marcus lead incredibly different lives in Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively. Sasha becomes a famous chef known for her inventive, “transcendental” Asian fusion cuisine (seriously, the best moments in this movie poke fun at America’s foodie culture), while Marcus lives at home, works for his father’s A/C company, and serves as front-man for his fledgling rock band “Hello Peril.”
A new restaurant opening brings Sasha back home to San Francisco, and ultimately back into Marcus’ life. Much of the film presents obstacles to further the will-they-won’t-they dynamic, while playing off the beloved rom-com trope of introducing two characters living contrasting lives.
The movie shined most when it delivered quick, one-line zingers, or when it was purposefully satirical. The best scene happens when Marcus, his hippie girlfriend (Vivian Bang), Sasha, and Keanu Reeves (portraying a pretentious, overzealous version of himself) are dining in a high-end, avant-garde restaurant. The scene allows Park and Wong to play off each other in a comical, organic way, while cementing the fact that Marcus and Sasha live in two different worlds. It’s worth mentioning that Reeves is hilarious in his cameo, and his scenes have been so memorable that they’ve already been meme-ified across the internet.
While Park and Wong have amazing comedic chemistry—perhaps honed from their time spent on “Fresh Off the Boat,” where Wong was previously a writer—their romantic chemistry never felt genuine. It’s not because they didn’t vibe with each other; it’s more that their chemistry always came across as great pals instead of lovers.
The film has clear winks to Asian American viewers. From a band named “Hello Peril”—a clever joke that aims to reclaim Yellow Peril—to a “Stay Angry” t-shirt donned by Marcus that gives a shout out to the popular blog Angry Asian Man, this was definitely a rom-com made by Asian Americans for Asian Americans. In an interview with The Atlantic, Wong and Park shared that “they wanted to tell a distinctly Asian American love story,” one that reflected their upbringings and experiences. And they’ve achieved that.
Though some of the presented Asian parent stereotypes were hammy, the everyday references, like how Koreans love to use scissors to cut food, or the simple conversation that unfolds over a dim sum meal, were the moments where it genuinely felt more relatable.
With two major Asian American leads that have been killing it in recent years, I wanted to like “Always Be My Maybe” more. I feel like I’m supposed to like it more. But outside of its witty zingers, feminist slant, and cultural references for Asian Americans, this was otherwise a conventional, formulaic rom-com. But perhaps that’s the point — that we’ve finally reached a place where mediocre Asian American rom-coms are now acceptable in mainstream media.
“Always Be My Maybe” is now streaming on Netflix.
Vivian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.