Director Nahnatchka Khan’s edgy rom-com features lovely work from stars and co-writers Ali Wong and Randall Park offering plenty of biting gags about the Asian American experience.
The prolific, comedy-intensive Wong and Park (probably best-known for his roles in Marvel and DC superhero movies) make a delightful couple here, and while there are inescapable comparisons to be made between this and When Harry Met Sally…, this is the harder, funnier movie of the two, no matter what genre tragics might say.
In 1996 young San Franciscan Sasha Tran (at this point played by Miya Cech) is a frequently lonely teen who spends more time with the kindly Korean family next door than she does with her own parents, and she becomes very close with sweet young Marcus (played here by Emerson Min). There are the expected montages of good, goofy times, and then we take up in 2003 where the pair is now played by Tran and Park and sex starts to intrude into their friends-only dynamic, and then they don’t reconnect until 2019 after life tears them apart. As it does.
When they meet up again Tran is a celebrity chef about to open a restaurant and Marcus is still looking after the family business and his getting-on Dad Harry (James Saito), who’s sprightlier than his son thinks. Each is romantically entangled: Sasha is engaged to chilly businessman Brandon Choi (Daniel Dae Kim from TV’s Lost) while Marcus is in a pretty embarrassing relationship with Jenny (Vivian Bang), an exhausting New-Age-type. And yet they nevertheless start swooning again anyway.
There’s also a lengthy midsection cameo by someone very well-known indeed and playing an up-themselves version of themselves to hilarious effect too, but their identity won’t be given away here and don’t go Googling because you’ll spoil it! And yes, it might have been action star Mark Dacascos, bigtime drama name Paul Giamatti or even director M. Night Shyamalan – but, in the end, it wasn’t.
Many will also compare this to the soon-to-be-sequelised Crazy Rich Asians as Hollywood finds itself finally embracing Asian-American narratives onscreen. But while the path of true happiness in that film was only slightly troubled, here it’s far more complicated, and Wong and Park deliver with performances full of humour as well as real pain, fear and love.
And yes, Mariah Carey’s Always Be My Baby is played over the end credits, but you’ll get over it.
Always Be My Maybe is now streaming on Netflix