Netflix’s latest rom-com offering, Always Be My Maybe, sidesteps the monotony of the genre and presents a product fit for a 2019 audience.
The familiar romantic comedy plot can easily become mundane. The formula of meet-cute, love, adversity, heartfelt reconciliation is familiar territory for fans of the genre. However, Netflix’s latest rom-com offering, Always Be My Maybe sidesteps the monotony of the genre and presents a product fit for a 2019 audience. It couples a delightfully diverse cast – with an especially dynamic Asian American lead couple – with a thoughtful storyline, where cultural nuances complement the unfolding narrative. The story of childhood sweethearts who reconnect later in life has been told before, but because of its charming and comical energy, Always Be My Maybe distinguishes itself. Here are five reasons why Always Be My Maybe is the one to be on your Netflix list:
1. Ali Wong as Sasha Tran
Actress, comedian and writer Ali Wong delivers an exceptional performance as Sasha, a funny, fiery and talented celebrity chef at the height of her success. Sasha’s romantic life however, faces a challenge in the form of her worldly, captivating but noncommittal fiancé Daniel Dae Kim.
Wong’s portrayal of Sasha is steeped in reality. She does not limit her character to the usual stereotypes of female leads in romcoms: the girl-next-door, the wide-eyed ingenue, the Monroe-esque sex kitten, the hopeless romantic or the ambitious career girl. Her character, like women in real life, is multifaceted. Wong proves herself a capable actress: her emotional depth when exhibiting Sasha’s vulnerability and disappointment in her personal life, not only comes across as relatable, but would make any viewer sympathetic to her struggle.
Wong’s comedic performance is especially noteworthy. Sasha’s challenges are relevant to independent and modern women, and these challenges are addressed with comedic ease in this film. Wong immerses herself in wit, culture and physical comedy, and it works. Wong is the heart of this film and she elevates an already smart, driven and powerful character with her charisma.
It is, of course, also undoubtedly refreshing to watch an Asian-American actress in a role that embraces her cultural background and informs her character in rich and meaningful ways rather than one that downplays it into nonexistence. Not a film to ignore any of the details, even the sartorial ones, Always Be My Maybe, under the direction of stylist Leesa Evans, dresses Sasha in quirky outfits, glitzy gowns and trendy eyewear, that make Wong’s character sing.
2. Randall Park as Marcus Kim
With Always Be My Maybe, Park, who became a household name with hit TV show Fresh Off The Boat, and recently appeared in movies such as Aquaman (2018) and Ant Man and the Wasp (2018), finally takes on the role of romantic leading man. Park’s Marcus Kim is a complacent 30-something year old, who lives and works with his father, raps as a hobby and is unambitious and uninterested in breaking out of his hometown. Park succeeds in bringing levity to serious scenes, with his gift for deadpan and self-deprecating humour. This role is a perfect vehicle for his straightforward-yet-lovable style.
Park’s love for rap and hip hop is also incorporated into his character, with the movie showcasing his impressive musical skills. This artistic choice makes Marcus even more endearing as a character. It is undeniable that the lead actors have chemistry. Their long-time, off-screen friendship allows them to navigate through all types of scenes with a confidence and familiarity that “sells” this chemistry even better.
3. Supporting cast
As hinted, the strong leads are not the only treasure that Always Be My Maybe has to offer. The entire cast is impressively – and, appropriately, for its San Francisco setting – diverse. Moreover, introductory scenes featuring the young Sasha and Marcus, played by child actors Miya Cech and Emerson Min respectively, are memorable and provide a sweet insight into the history of the lead characters. Additionally, Mr. Kim played exuberantly by James Saito, hits all the right notes of fatherly affection and fun.
Scene-stealer Keanu Reeves, however, leaves an indelible mark on this film – and the internet – as a side-splittingly funny version of himself. His role as a stranger-than-fiction version of himself is a comical amalgamation of sex appeal, pseudo-intellectual outbursts and unpredictable male bravado. Complimenting his character is Jenny, (Vivian Bang) Marcus’s eccentric girlfriend. Keanu and Jenny wonderfully play off each other to inject the film with another dose of offbeat humour.
4. A story with cultural nuance, complex parental relationships and a refreshing take on gender roles
Always Be My Maybe has been highly anticipated as a much needed rom-com for Asian American representation, however that is not the only reason why the film is so good. The cultural nuances written into the screenplay, complement the story rather than feeling like an intrusion, as they easily could have. Although a romcom like Crazy Rich Asians (2018) was a delight, it is, at the end of the day, a grandiose presentation of high-class, wealthy Asian people and culture. Always Be My Maybe explores the stories of everyday people, who happen to be Asian-American.
Asian food plays an important role throughout the film. It represents home for Sasha. A pre-teen Sasha begins by learning how to cook authentic Korean Kimchi-Jjigae from Mrs Kim, and goes on to become a high-flying “elevated Asian cuisine” celebrity chef. By the end of the film, she comes full circle and ends her journey serving the original Kimchi-Jjigae at her new, more-authentic, family-orientated restaurant. It is clear what this moment is: A metaphor for Sasha finally returning to where she truly belongs, with the people most important to her.
Always Be My Maybe does not shy away from the complexities of parental relationships. The relationship between Marcus and his father, is completely different to that of Sasha and her parents. Although both sets of parents care deeply for their respective children, this film explores the different ways that parents show care and affection. Marcus uses his father as an excuse not to take any risks in life, whereas Sasha avoids her parents as a result of childhood resentment. Both will be familiar to many viewers from their own relationships with their parents, and it is yet another choice that makes this film feel so real.
Another important concept that the film addresses is gender roles in romantic relationships. Marcus is initially unable to come to terms with the fact that he may be reduced to the “regular guy” that “holds the purse” of his more successful girlfriend. In a poignant moment, Sasha asks him, “What’s wrong with you supporting me? No one would question it if it was the other way around!” She moves their relationship forward throughout the film, and makes grand romantic gestures. This is refreshing to see in a romcom, where these gestures are usually reserved for the male lead.
Fittingly, the film ends on a light-hearted quip: “It’s gonna be hard giving you an unbiased Yelp review.”
The soundtrack is a significant reason why the film is able to maintain an uplifting, hip and cool feel. Classics such as “93 ‘Til Infinity” by Souls of Mischief, “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” by D’Angelo, and of course, “Always Be My Baby” by Mariah Carey are included as the background score to pertinent moments in the characters’ lives.
However, it is the three original songs, written by Randall Park and hip-hop producer Dan the Automator, that make the greatest impressions: “Hello”, “Tennis Ball” and “I punched Keanu Reeves” (*spoiler alert*) by Marcus’s hip-hop band “Hello Peril” is a skilful addition.
Always Be My Maybe is a fun take on a tried and tested rom-com concept: childhood sweethearts finding their way back to each other. However, with new talent and much-needed representation, this story becomes new, not only better, but also more meaningful to people of colour. Growing up, most people of colour barely saw any depictions of themselves or their families in Hollywood films, and if they did, it was only in the form of a one-dimensional character, laden with distasteful stereotypes. Films like Always Be My Maybe represent significant progress. Perhaps this is the most important reason why Always Be My Maybe, to use a rom-com term, is “the One”.