Ali! Ali! Ali!
Ali Wong is a Bright New Comedy Lead in ‘Always Be My Maybe’
Netflix has nearly singlehandedly spearheaded a rom-com revival, with solid original romantic comedies like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Set it Up, and Someone Great. Though not the best of the bunch, Always Be My Maybe is absolutely worth a watch, or two. It’s pleasant, and features enough endearing and hilarious moments to make up for minor issues. My roommate and I looked at each other and said “This is already the cutest thing ever!” within the first few minutes.
The movie begins with a quick but well-told prologue, featuring the protagonists as children. Sasha is lonely, and Marcus’s mom is a comfort and inspiration to her. His mom dies when they’re high-school seniors, and they grieve the loss intensely.
After losing their virginity to each other, Marcus cruelly lashes out in a Burger King, ending their friendship. It’s a harsh, relatable scene. Despite Marcus’s awful words, you still feel for both characters.
The harshness of the scene makes it less believable when they get together as adults, without ever acknowledging how hurtful the argument was. They just gloss over it! Maybe I hold too many grudges, but I at least wanted to see them both apologize.
Like every good romcom, one of the characters is a celebrity of some kind (in this case, Sasha is an incredibly successful celebrity chef). It’s mandatory for rom coms that one character always needs to fully transform so they don’t understand the real world anymore. Despite her personality change, Sasha and Marcus become friends again, thanks to his pushy dad and her pushy sidekick (Michelle Buteau).
Sasha even supports Marcus’s very local band, Hello Peril. There are several scenes featuring the band and enthusiastic audiences, but I will be honest: I watched Always Be My Maybe in its entirety and I still don’t know if the band is meant to be good. I think they were going for “this band is wildly good” but reader, they are not. It’s Randall Park rapping, and he’s not bad, but the overall quality of the band is not good. Truly that’s all I can say about it, it’s so confusing.
Ali Wong is incredibly charming, and her glasses are always on point. Of course, they each have completely unsuitable partners at the outset. I believe Sasha would hook up with the successful and handsome Brandon Choi (Daniel Dae Kim) but I simply don’t buy that Marcus would ever be interested in the ditzy, dreadlocked Jenny (Vivian Bang) who apparently uses a crochet hook to create dreadlocks– the wig is incredible.
In fact, Marcus’s character is kind of underdeveloped altogether. A discordant scene where he goes into Tom Ford screaming and demanding champagne doesn’t align with his character at all. Park delivers even his ostensibly sincere statements with near-sarcasm
Despite their long-term friendship, it’s hard to understand why Sasha would go for Marcus at all. Usually, the characters meet in the middle, but in this case Marcus has to continue to rise and rise to get to her level. He pitches a fit about her success like a whiny baby, and his efforts to get back together feel underwhelming at best. Park and Wong, who wrote the screenplay, failed to assign his character any redeeming qualities aside from being sort of a nice guy. It’s strange, because Randall Park himself is very handsome and charming, but the character lacked the same appeal.
The movie has moments of greatness, such as a fantastic turn by Keanu Reeves as a jerkier version of himself. Actors playing themselves and having fun with it is one of my favorite pastimes (see Neal Patrick Harris in Harold & Kumar, or James Van Der Beek on the late, lamented Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23). Keanu doesn’t disappoint, and the other actors play off him phenomenally. Sasha and Keanu exchanging sweet nothings is fantastically weird and wonderful. The Keanu scenes are great because everyone commits to the absurdity, and they’re not superfluous. They act as the catalyst for multiple breakups.
Always Be My Maybe was solid enough that I want to see more films penned by Wong and Park. But Wong is the one who truly shines. I hope this is only the beginning of leading roles for her.