FILM REVIEW: Always Be My Maybe
Childhood best friends, Sasha Tran (Ali Wong) and Marcus Kim (Randall Park), have a falling out and don’t speak for 15 years. They reconnect as adults when Sasha runs into Marcus in San Francisco. Although the old sparks are still there, the couple live in different worlds.
Director: Nahnatchka Khan
Cast: Ali Wong, Randall Park, James Saito, Michelle Buteau, Vivan Bang, Keanu Reeves
Review by Nadia Alang
Always Be My Maybe has drawn much attention because of its all-Asian main cast, Keanu Reeves cameo, and its nuanced approach to Asian-American experiences. For me, the film stood out because of its comic approach to portraying the luxury of celebrity lifestyle.
Ever seen an Asian chasing a smoke-weed-and-make-bad-rap musician lifestyle? Or a film where Keanu Reeves is drinking wine and sobbing hysterically? Neither have I, and these silly instances are exactly what makes this film so unique; it shatters the unrealistic expectations that average people have of celebrity image and lifestyle.
Combine this with an uncomplicated romance plot, witty dialogue and entertaining characters and we get a film that is perfect for idle viewing.
The love story in this film is inspired by the genre-defining 1989 rom-com When Harry Met Sally which explains the predictable and ultra-conventional structure. However, Sasha and Marcus are so strikingly different that their relationship feels like a stretch on the saying, “opposites attract”. Simply hearing her talk about her crush on Marcus justifies his and Keanu’s reactions – “What?” “Him?”. The chemistry between Sasha and Marcus also does not always come through in their romantic scenes but their friendship proves to be the real charm of their relationship. Their friendly banters and honest, direct conversations are refreshing to watch.
Romance aside, the performances by comedy pros Ali Wong and Randall Park make the individual lives of Sasha and Marcus enjoyable to watch. So if you shy away from The Notebook because it makes you feel depressed about being single, you have nothing to worry about here. The characters supporting Sasha and Marcus’s roles, particularly her colleagues and his band members, are all given enough screen-time and hilarious dialogue to pace the film brilliantly and keep it lighthearted.
Furthermore, the cinematography of the film makes it visually appealing on all levels. From the colour palette used in each scene, to the costumes and make-up that match the characters’ personalities, the creative direction of this film is masterful. The soundtrack is mostly hip-hop which does not appeal to my taste but the upbeats keep the film engaging during the prolonged shots of American cityscapes.
Although the film has been repeatedly compared to the last all-Asian-cast film, Crazy Rich Asians, I find the two to be very different. While Crazy Rich Asians glorifies the rich lifestyle by having Rachel (Constance Wu) marry into Nick Young’s (Henry Golding) rich family, in Always Be My Maybe, Marcus calls out on Sasha’s fakeness and fights her about the material wealth that is making her forget her roots.
The all-Asian main cast surprisingly does not overdo the ‘Asianness’ of the film. Instead, glimpses of Asian culture are incorporated in nuanced ways through the subtle nods at Asian values – family, kinship, thriftiness – in the dialogue and characters.
Overall, this is a rom-com that succeeds as a comedy and keeps the romance uniquely real. Some rom-coms leave us daydreaming about a grand, over-the-top wedding with a Golding or a Gosling who can build us a house. Always Be My Maybe keeps these expectations about luxury and love in check – at their worst, Marcus is an underachieving stoner and Sasha is a neurotic celebrity. There are aspects to both personalities that everyone can relate to and imperfect as they are, they still get their happy ending together.