ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE. It can be challenging for me to find an entry point with romantic comedies. Not that I dislike them (though to be honest I would most of the time select something else) but by and large the genre leans on the acceptance of a certain level of earnestness, a borderline maudlin sense that love will conquer all. And I think it is in that lack of surprise, that hopeful predictability, that the genre tends to lose me. So when I learned that the movie Ali Wong (O, Ali Wong!) and Randall Park (O, Randall Park!) had been developing for Netflix would, in fact, be a romantic comedy, my enthusiasm was somewhat tempered — still there, just a little more tentative.
As most within earshot are aware, I revere Wong for her tiny, towering, woman-on-fire stand-up comedy. She tells it like it is and then some, wrecking shop with her filthy, fearless, elegantly constructed observations on modern life as we know it, from childbirth to graphing calculators. And I understand that her on-stage persona is just that: a character, a construct, an amplified delivery system for material that requires it. I also get that it would be difficult to contain that persona within the frame of a narrative movie that anybody could actually get through. Still, because I so love her in that guise, I was a little concerned about her transition to a lead role that wouldn't let her riff at length and in great detail on her disgust at coworkers' bowel movements.
About Park I was a little less reticent. He has proven, over a gradually building decade-and-a-half career as a character actor, with his deadpan and perfect timing, that he can support just about anybody in a comedy. More to the point, he should have been starring in movies well before now.
So if it had to be a romantic comedy, at least I had these leads, despite some reservations. The fact that they co-wrote the screenplay (with Michael Golamco) also provided some reassurance. And while the results of their collaboration might hew closer to the conventional than I would have hoped, Always Be My Maybe is a success for hitting the right notes of an accessible romantic comedy while also honoring the eccentricities of its star/writers.
Sasha Tran (Wong) and Marcus Kim (Park) grew up next door to each in row-house San Francisco, she the latch-key kid of shop owners consumed by their business, he the center of a family founded on hearth and home. The Kims become Sasha's surrogate family, and she and Marcus inseparable. As high school draws to its close, the two insulate themselves from tragedy by having sex with each other, each for the first time. Inevitably, it complicates their relationship and they drift apart.
Fifteen years later, Sasha is a celebrity chef with a booming Los Angeles hot-spot. She's preparing to move back to San Francisco temporarily to open a new restaurant when her fiancé and business partner Brandon (Daniel Dae Kim) announces they should postpone their engagement while he jets off to India with José Andrés. And, oh yeah, they should see other people.
Meanwhile, Marcus works with his dad in the family heating and air conditioning company, smokes weed, dances in front of his mirror and performs dive-bar gigs with his band, which has more promise than he'd like to admit.
Thanks to some skillful subterfuge on the part of Sasha's assistant — and longtime friend of our protagonists — Veronica (Michelle Buteau), Sasha and Marcus are awkwardly reintroduced. They begin spending time together and the cloying traps of the typical "will they or won't they" story arc are, for the most part, neatly avoided. Well, not entirely but I guess that's kind of the point.
Always Be My Maybe is resolute in its commitment to the genre, and while it's not the vehicle I might have selected for these leads, the movie brings enough of their unique charm and chemistry to bear that I better understand what makes people love romantic comedies. Plus the soundtrack burbles with Bay Area hip-hop, Lyrics Born has a small role as one of Marcus' bandmates and Dan "The Automator" Nakamura produced the original songs on the soundtrack (all indie hip-hop nerd stuff that makes me glance wistfully at my record cabinet).
There's also a cameo in the second act that will go down in the books as an all-timer and a brief scene wherein Marcus tries to act like a boss at the Tom Ford store that should spawn a thousand memes. NETFLIX.
— John J. Bennett
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