Review: Always Be My Maybe

dir. Nahnatchka Khan, 2019

Netflix provides another charming romantic comedy for us in Always Be My Maybe, one that endears the audience but fails to reinvent the genre. The story of Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park), two childhood friends who reconnect after sixteen years not speaking, navigate their feelings for one another despite living two different lifestyles.

Always Be My Maybe does not completely redefine the romantic comedy genre, sitting quite easily amongst its peers. For example, very familiar motifs crop up – the main two being food and music. It’s why Jack Black writes music scores in The Holiday; why Meg Ryan annoyingly micromanages her food orders in When Harry Met Sally; why Rupert Everett sings Dionne Warwick at the family dinner in My Best Friend’s Wedding. Food and music embody the romantic comedy genre, representing sensory indulgences in a genre dependent on emotional nourishment. The reliance on romantic comedy tropes though (e.g. – the hilarious best friend, the broken families, the love interest’s cockblock partner) are not the downfall of the film. It makes for the comfortable viewing that a rom com is meant to offer. There can be a lot of pressure on a film when it provides alternative representation to the usual white world the screen typically shows us. Not every film has to be deeply radical in structure though to be applauded, a subversion of the mundane is far more relatable to an audience member.

Always Be My Maybe follows in the suit of films like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Crazy Rich Asians where the chick flick is no longer a realm just for white people. The film manages to not appear tokenistic or performative in any one-dimensional way. The characters’ plotlines are not continuously burdened with diasporic difficulty, but a subtle factor of their everyday lives. While their identity inevitably varies their world perspective, their obstacles come from rom com tropes of family obligations, career ambitions, and a fear of vulnerability. This does not act as racial erasure though in merely swapping the White American face or performing their culture as the ‘oriental exotic’ that panders to a white audience. Instead, the film displays a universality to the modern Americana love story.

Ali Wong and Randall Park show off their comedy prowess, having a hand in the screenplay and playing characters with immense chemistry. As per every great romantic comedy though, the greatest comic performances lie with the supporting cast. The stand-out is Michelle Buteau as best friend and colleague Veronica. When we first meet her ranting about her pregnancy as the “fat Meghan Markle”, we know that her comic delivery and dominance over the space is completely on her terms. Considering recent performances, such as her short scene-stealing stint in Someone Great, she continually acts as a reliable anchor to the cast that does not overpower the precious screen time of our starring couple.

The comic performance of the cast in general impresses. While the average romantic comedy excessively relies on physical comedy in cheap skits of ‘the lovable klutz’, this cast use it in a much more effective way. It entertains in a more simplistic way (just watch how Randall Park eats sausages, directed by Nahnatchka Khan in a Buster Keaton-esque fashion), evoking a childlike innocence appropriate to the story of two childhood friends.

The performance that I must rave about though is Keanu Reeves’. I will warn that you should probably take my opinion of this with a pinch of salt, considering that Reeves is one of the many loves of my life. However, oh my god is he amazing. His ‘character’ (a debatable term in this context) interacts with the caricature of himself with such fierce magnetism. With such tongue-in-cheek star value as this, the fear of a cringey cameo creeps in. When he provides phenomenal comic delivery in terms of dialogue and physicality though, that only grows the more screen time he has, that anxiety quickly dissipates. Keanu Reeves is currently having a moment, something that confuses those who like to insult his acting style. But this film exhibits the effortlessness to his characterisations that straddles such rich allure. Anyway, I love him, and this Keanu Reeves interlude is over now.

In short, Khan directs a charming tale that showcases an enchanting script by Michael Golamco alongside Ali Wong and Randall Park. Netflix triumphs once more so make sure to stream it. (Oh – and Keanu Reeves is fabulous, in case I hadn’t mentioned).

-Charlotte ‘Fozz’ Forrester

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