Rom-coms have always been a bizarre genre. Not because I don’t find them enjoyable or enticing, but because more than any genre, they have a prescribed plot as part of their DNA. Going to see a western, or action movie, or drama, you have a general sense of some of the themes and tones and settings that might be in store for you, but the plot can still surprise you. A rom-com is defined by it’s plot trajectory, and so at the end of the day the only question is how well it pulled it off.
Which is, again, not to say anything against rom-coms. There’s a reason they have the same plot over and over again and people still go to see them. A movie about two funny and charismatic actors falling in love? Sweet! There’s some obstacles in their way? What’s not to like? Always Be My Maybe hits all the checkpoints, and does so ably.
So: you know two people are going to fall in love. As kids in San Francisco Sasha (Ali Wong) lives next door to Marcus (Randall Park). Sasha’s parents are busy working, always, so Marcus invites her to dinner with his family every night. His mother Judy (Susan Park) teaches Sasha how to prepare dishes, and Sasha falls in love with cooking. Near the end of high school Judy dies in an accident. Sasha and Marcus have sex and then have a falling out, and don’t see each other for years. Sasha becomes a celebrity chef. Marcus works with his dad doing air conditioning installation and repair. Eventually Sasha and Marcus run back into each other, but they’re still prickly around each other (they’re very different people with a lot of past!!) Etc.
Just because the plot of the rom-com is broadly its defining feature doesn’t mean there isn’t room to play around with it. Always Be My Maybe expands the “first act” quite a lot. Sasha and Marcus don’t immediately want to reconnect, and as a result the movie gives them time to be normal humans with normal lives. Sasha is busy opening a restaurant, dealing with an absentee fiance, and reconnecting with her parents and family. Marcus gets to spend time with his dad and his band. It makes the eventual love (and arguments) have some serious weight – we know the characters well enough to get where they’re coming from, and while it feels like they might be good for one another they certainly don’t feel destined for each other.
As for a comedy portion… it’s all fine. Wong and Park are both, as stated above, incredibly charismatic actors, and I like both Sasha and Marcus. I don’t know if I find them funny-funny, though. Even the Keanu Reeves (as himself) cameo plays off more as fun than funny (he’s kind of blowing back up, I feel like? Was he just on a break for a while or what?). It’s not really any of the actors’ fault, though. Here the movie falls victim to the trouble with nearly all modern comedy – the actors are responsible for delivering every joke, instead of delegating it to any of the other tools a filmmaker has at their disposal. I can’t think of a single moment where there was a visual gag, a great sound cue, or even just hilarious blocking. I can think of nearly no modern comedy that relies on those things, though, save for Armando Iannucci who is just a master of blocking (I just finished rewatching Veep and those first four seasons are just… a quick digression: there is a shot where Selina is doing an interview that grows increasingly critical as it goes on and, while they are shooting B-Roll, Selina and the interviewer walk down a hallway away from the camera, gesturing vaguely at different things. Their mics remain live. They viciously discuss the turn the interview has taken. It’s such a genius set up for a laugh) and Edgar Wright, who is a master of camera and editing. So, digressions aside, the movie was constantly endearing and affable without ever making me burst out laughing.
But, really, there’s nothing to be critical of. Sometimes I felt the movie was too “neat,” and I would have liked more jagged resolutions. Sometimes I wanted some more inventive comedy. But that’s not what this movie was trying to offer, and asking it to be something different is markedly unfair. It was fun, and sweet, and overall I enjoyed it. If it feels I don’t have too much to say about it, it’s because perhaps I don’t. It’s just very good and very enjoyable, and I didn’t want it to be anything else. So: case closed.
I give Always Be My Maybe seven tennis balls out of ten Keanu-called-Uber-pools.
- Speaking of Randall Park and Veep, Randall Park is very good in Veep.
- The songs Park’s band sings are legitimately funny and goofy and would also win me over. Frequently movies highlight a talent a character is supposed to have and I’m not sold. Here, it worked.