A lot of rom-coms forget one or the other, the rom or the com. They make you laugh and forget to make you care, or they make you care and forget to make you laugh. Always Be My Maybe doesn’t forget and, along with Long Shot from earlier this month, continues a new tradition of men supporting women on top of the world. It’s a riotous two-hander and a genuinely touching saga about two childhood friends who lose touch only to rekindle and romance each other many years later, and in the awkwardest way possible, of course.
Randall Park is Marcus, a blue-collar worker living with Dad (James Saito), harboring a talent for rap in the dive bars of San Fran with his fellow band mates. They want more and Marcus is too comfy, too stuck in his own way to find out what he’s really made of, too scared of leaving good old Dad behind twenty years after his mother died tragically. Ali Wong is Sasha, celebrity chef and the former girl next door. Left home alone by her absentee parents, she would often run over for supper with Marcus and his parents when they were kids. She’s uber-successful now, and reeling from a break-up with her fiance (Daniel Dae Kim) that has her doubling down on a lone wolf mission statement. They’re both archetypes made real by Park and Wong, character actors determined here to make you like them even when their characters are annoying as hell at times. And they succeed. Too often rom-coms are incapable of nailing that crucial balance between likability and fallibility. Both are absolutely necessary in making you and I relate to them while recognizing their flaws at the same time.
Their rekindling and inevitable conflict can be somewhat truncated, a result of the film’s need to break them up the minute they fight. Regardless, Park and Wong sell their bond in the midst of slick 90’s tunes, superlative original songs, and one stupendous cameo (spoiled in trailers unfortunately), not to mention subtle probing of Asian identity in America. Some have knocked it for encouraging stereotypes, meanwhile Saito is living his best life as a father who defies all strict Asian parent labels. He’s a breathe of fresh air as a man working to move on while his son allows the world to pass him by. Sasha and Marcus collide over shared history and combust over differing lifestyles. He’s talented but unambitious, content with townie life in a single neighborhood in San Francisco. She’s a master chef but laser-focused, not content to stick around in one spot forever. Their sweet resolution is feminist without shouting it from the rooftops, the best messaging one can hope for in a divided world. Another rom-com Long Shot, politically astute if heavy-handed, had a similar message, possibly signalling a welcome sea change from a time when female characters of the genre were forced to abandon work for love.
Randall Park and Ali Wong, both serving as producer, have proven themselves to be superstars. His rapping game is sublime and her dressing game is red-carpet-whoa. Every dress scores and together they make a charming couple worthy of the next great Film Twitter mates. I’m done rhyming now, for Always Be My Maybe is more than quirky rap songs or one uproarious cameo. It’s a rom-com that covers all bases, continues a great new tradition, and uses cliches to its advantage. Wait for the end credits and treat yourself to a potential Best Original Song nominee. That is, as long as Netflix can get off their ass and four-wall this movie.