Asians in Hollywood: “Always Be My Maybe”
Who would’ve thought Asians would be trending in Hollywood right now? Perhaps it’s thanks to the audience’s demand for more Asian representation on the big screen. Either way, casting agents are jumping at the chance to quench our thirsts, and frankly, I can see why – last summer’s Crazy Rich Asians became the decade’s highest-grossing romantic comedy. It’s a feat that’s been long overdue, and although hard to follow, it inspired more Asian stories to be told.
Sure, Netflix’s new Asian American rom-com Always Be My Maybe isn’t a $30 million production with gorgeous backdrops of Singapore, but I’m glad it isn’t. Finally, we have a movie set in America featuring ordinary characters fellow Asian Americans can really relate to.
Co-written and starring Chinese-Vietnamese American comedian Ali Wong and Korean American actor Randall Park, it’s a movie about two childhood friends reconnecting and falling in love as adults.
Ali plays Sasha Tran, a celebrity chef, who briefly returns to her hometown in San Francisco to oversee the opening of a restaurant. She has a chance encounter with her former neighbor and best friend, Marcus Kim (Randall), who is stagnant in life working for his widowed father’s HVAC company and performing in a talented but not well-known band on the side.
Their awkward meeting brings me back to the night they clumsily lost their virginities to each other as teens in the backseat of Marcus’ beat-up Corolla. If creaking seats and car mishaps weren’t funny enough, their conversation after their rendezvous is bound to ensue laughter. It begins when Sasha asks Marcus how he learned to put on a condom, which he got from seventh grade. Marcus answered, “This lady came to our school, taught us sex ed for a day, and she put it on a banana.”
Without missing a beat, Sasha asks Marcus if he practiced at home with a banana. To which he replied, “No, I didn’t need a banana at home.”
Despite their intimate moment, they fell out that same night and subsequently lost contact. After their unexpected reunion, the two leads take the opportunity to rekindle their friendship and reignite some romantic sparks. Along the way, they challenge each other to let go of their pasts – Sasha needs to give her absentee parents and the San Francisco Asian community another chance while Marcus has to break out of his comfort zone in order to grow as an individual.
It’s a familiar plot for Asian Americans – almost a carbon copy of our own lives. Like Sasha, many Asian American children are forced to care for themselves while their immigrant parents work hard to earn money.
In Marcus’ case, he felt the responsibility to be with his dad, although it has been many years since his mom passed away. Even though his father had already moved on, Marcus had no idea because they never communicated their thoughts and feelings to each other. His storyline is a reflection of filial piety values and the lack of communication prevalent between Asian parents and their children.
Watching Ali and Randall give depth to their characters by nodding at their Asian heritage was a smart move on their part. It allowed me to connect with the film in a way that I never did for any American movie before. Not only is Asian culture aptly and accurately celebrated in the film – with no shoes in the house and using scissors in the kitchen – but the actors’ American identity is recognized as well – hence Asian American movie.
With tributes to the hip-hop scene in 90s America and R&B in the early 2000s, Always Be My Maybe is not just for Asians. In fact, Ali and Randall’s strong comedic performances play a big part in appealing to beyond Asian audiences. Cue Ali passionately singing along to D’Angelo and Randall calling her out for not knowing the lyrics. The comedic elements ranged from physical (backseat sex) to cultural (fighting over bills) and observational (lack of ramps for the handicapped). It leads me to wonder if Asian humor is the latest genre to join ethnic humor programs trending on Netflix.
Admittedly, the movie does raise eyebrows at parts, but don’t all rom- coms? For example, Randall taking a piss on stage was uncalled for and hardly funny. Also, as cool as it is to have Keanu Reeves, who is part Chinese-Hawaiian, play himself in the film, his cameo got increasingly more and more absurd to me. Although funny at first – with his dramatic entrance at the restaurant and all – his bizarre actions to compete for Sasha’s attention with Marcus were so unrealistic that it was a turn-off.
Regardless, Always Be My Maybe is full of easy-to-digest humor mixed with cultural nods. And honestly, any movie with the flavor of an old-school romantic comedy is always worth my time.
This film review is written by MelodyC, and is part of a new feature, “Asians in Hollywood” at JayneStars.com.
Def easy rom-com. i do enjoy it ! also made me love keanu reeves more lol
Ali Wong’s stand-up comedy shows have always been over-the-top. I discovered her earlier this year as I was browsing through Netflix’s titles, and was very excited to see her in “Always Be My Maybe”. Thoroughly enjoyed her sparks with Randall Park, whose subdued humor was a good balance to Ali’s bold performance.
Would love to hear your feedback if you’ve seen “Always Be My Maybe” or what you think of the leads, Ali Wong and Randall Park.
“Asians in Hollywood” is a new ongoing feature on JayneStars, as productions featuring Asian-Americans will be highlighted. Stay tuned for more featured artistes!
I really wanted to like this movie, but the jokes weren’t funny. Plus I watch too many Asian drama or romantic movies in general that this type movie was nothing new.
The best part was Keanu reeves.
I felt the movie was a bit too contrived. It’s very difficult for stand-up comics to write good comedy movies, IMO (although Mindy Kaling might be an exception.) And Always Be My Maybe fell into that habit of trying too hard. Not to mention, I thought Randall Park was a miscast – I just don’t find him charming enough. But considering he and Ali knew each other from way back and probably because he’s married, Ali felt safe using him as main star material acting alongside her.
Basically it is the seen to death ROM com now replaced with Asian actors. Nothing new, nothing ground breaking and for asians in Asia, not same league as local stuff. Keanu reeves was best and that’s about it.
Saw 1 ali Wong stand up and it was very very vulgar and nothing relevant, nothing funny. Basically a show full of sex jokes. Perhaps I saw the worst version of her show.
i saw several of her clips on youtube and found her body language and jokes in her performance vulgar as well. i do admire her for success in hollywood, i guess when you are of a race that the general population in us don’t care to look at, you got to do something extreme to stand out.
I thought it was really charming. Yes, it follows the same Rom Com formula, but having Asian actors and themes makes it more relatable to me and different than all the other hundreds of Rom Coms. Representation matters.
It was very funny at many parts throughout. Besides the parts mentioned in the review, I had many other laugh out-loud moments. When Marcus’s girlfriend served Sasha with that Vienna sausage spaghetti, the looks on their faces were priceless. Marcus ordering in Mandarin and getting better service was perfect. Him shopping for a suit turned the usual “Pretty Woman” trope on its head.
It was also poignant. I loved the chemistry between the child actors for Sasha and Marcus. They were so cute. I was hurting for older Sasha and Marcus when I think about how their young versions were.
I did wish Marcus apologized for being mean to Sasha. Also, Sasha was a bit too harsh to her parents. The movie may have tried to address too many things.
Ali Wong is so clever. Her comedy may be vulgar but it is funny because it is based on truthful observations. And truthful observations can be uncomfortable.
Overall, it was quite enjoyable and smart. I even liked it better than Crazy Rich Asians (which I also loved). I hope this opens the doors to more Asian work.
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