Movie Review: Netflix’s ‘ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE’ a delightful Asian-infused romantic comedy

Travis Leamons // Film Critic

ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE

Rated PG-13, 102 minutes.
Director: Nahnatchka Khan
Cast: Ali WongRandall ParkJames Saito, Michelle Buteau, Vivian Bang, Susan Park, Daniel Dae Kim, Karan Soni, Charlyne Yi, Lyrics Born and Casey Wilson

The days of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan dining at a Katz’s Delicatessen – and Rob Reiner’s mom telling the server, “I’ll have what she’s having” – are gone. The romantic comedy is dying and only Netflix can save it. OK, maybe I’m being too hyperbolic. But you do the math.

Audiences aren’t flocking to theaters to see romantic comedies. CRAZY RICH ASIANS and TRAINWRECK are the rare exceptions, earning more than $100 million in the U.S. And despite mostly positive reviews, viewers vetoed a Seth Rogen/Charlize Theron pairing (LONG SHOT) at the start of the summer.

Romantic comedies by their very nature are simple and predictable, and best consumed in small doses. Too much and you’re likely to get an insulin spike – saccharine situations causing overload on the body. But what has become of the comedy sub-genre that includes the memorable pairings of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and versatile performers Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Drew Barrymore, and Hugh Grant? Formula trappings, plus a lack in diversity among its leads. CRAZY RICH ASIANS proved that general audiences could be attracted to its love story between Rachel, a middle-class Chinese-American economics professor (Constance Wu), and her boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding), who hails from a high-society family in Singapore.    

Wu’s FRESH OFF THE BOAT co-star, Randall Park, finds himself in a similar socioeconomic situation as Marcus, happily struggling in San Francisco while working for his dad’s heating/AC company. Growing up on a street of row houses, Marcus strikes up a friendship with next door neighbor Sasha. He invites her over for soup because he doesn’t want to bring soup to school the next day in a thermos. Nobody wants to sit next to that guy at lunch.

Randall Park, left, and Ali Wong co-wrote and star in ‘ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE.’ Courtesy of Netflix.

The invitation grows into a close friendship that continues through their teenage years. But when Marcus’s mother dies unexpectedly a moment of solace leads to spontaneous sex in a cramped car. Going all the way leaves an aftertaste they weren’t expecting, ultimately causing the two friends to drift apart and go their separate ways.

Fifteen years go by and Sasha (Ali Wong) is now a successful chef in L.A. with a dashing fiancé (Daniel Dae Kim) and new restaurants in the works. Marcus still lives at home with his father, smokes weed, and plays small bars with the band he started in high school. Then, Sasha comes back to San Francisco to put the finishing touches on her latest Asian fusion eatery. With Sasha back in town and Marcus having never left, you don’t need much guidance on what happens.

But before we get to the logical conclusion, along the way we have a little comedy, a little conflict (the biggest involving Marcus and his inability to grow and move on from his mother’s passing), encounters with past friends (like DEADPOOL’s Karan Soni), current lovers (Vivian Bang as a dreadlocked bohemian), and Sasha’s current bestie, Veronica (Michelle Buteau), a baby-expecting chef that believes she looks like a “fat Meghan Markle.”

Oh, there is one unexpected dinner guest. While other reviews for ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE have spoiled the surprise, I will refrain, only to acknowledge that this particular cameo is a sexy Asian-American and serves as romantic competition for Marcus after Sasha and her fiancé call it quits. He also loves dogs.

ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE is fun and familiar and frothy, but cheaper than an overpriced Macchiato. Nahnatcha Khan, coming from a television background (creator of FRESH OFF THE BOAT and DON’T TRUST THE B— IN APARTMENT 23), dives a little too much into sitcom territory for her feature debut, but Wong’s charms and her chemistry with Park, and some smartly played social commentary, help elevate this romantic comedy to perfect Netflix and Chill material.

Grade: B

ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE is now streaming on Netflix.

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