As kids, we are spoon-fed magical fairytales. We’re told that at some point (typically in our early 20s) that our perfect partner with miraculously come into our lives and sweep us off our feet. Netflix’s newest movie Always Be My Maybe rejects all of that noise. Unless by some miracle you’ve had a picturesque romance with your high school sweetheart, you’ll learn by your mid-20s that fairytales and romantic comedies are big fat lies, and if we read too much into them, they will surely set us up for failure. Thankfully, Always Be My Maybe’s take on romance and relationships is both brutally honest and breathtakingly refreshing. Helmed by director Nahnatchka Khan and starring Randall Park and Ali Wong who also co-wrote the film’s script–Always Be My Maybe is rom-com for now.
Set in San Francisco, Park and Wong star as Marcus and Sasha respectively. The pair are childhood besties who stay tight until a big blowup right after high school graduation sends them in two very different directions. Fast forward 16 years, Sasha is a global culinary sensation with a douchey hotshot fiancé (Daniel Dae Kim) and Marcus is still living at home, helping his father with the family heating and cooling business. He’s also been playing in the same band for the past two decades.
Moving back to San Fran from Los Angeles for three months to open yet another restaurant, Sasha runs into Marcus. After some awkwardness and letting go of a bit of hurt, the pair seemingly pick up where they left off 16 years ago. They begin to muddle their way through their history and emotional attachments while getting to know each other as adults. At first, things are pretty chill, both Marcus and Sasha are seeing other people, but as circumstances draw them towards one another, they soon realize that despite their differences and past missteps–they just might bring out the best in each other.
Thankfully, Marcus and Sasha don’t have some absurd meet cute and walk off in the sunset together. Instead, Always Be My Maybe chooses to grabble with serious issues that tend to sprout up in modern hetero-normative relationships. Instead of Sasha bending, stretching, sacrificing and making herself smaller (as women are still expected to do)– it’s Marcus who must confront his own insecurities, elevate himself, and find a way to fit in with Sasha’s fast-paced life. Also, this might not seem like a big deal, but the fact that Sasha–a Chinese American woman has sex on screen and is involved with more than one man is nearly miraculous since sexuality amongst Asian women is almost always repressed in cinema. One of Sasha’s lover just happens to be the delectable Keanu Reeves who greets her by saying, “I’ve missed your thighs.” Truly, watching it is so much better than you could ever even imagine.
Like other minorities in American cinema, Asian Americans have been erased or relegated to bit parts. With Park and Wong on board as stars and writers, they are able to bring in specific nuances from both the Korean and Chinese cultures that are particular to their journies and their experience in this country. From the food references to the cultural customs–they playfully jab at aspects of their respective heritages without ever having to go out of their way to make sure the audience gets every reference. We won’t, and it might even make us feel a bit uncomfortable that we’re on the outside looking in, but that’s what makes Always Be My Maybe so unique. These characters are able to just exist.
Since the film starts in the ’90s before plugging gracefully through time, Khan also uses music to pinpoint moments in time with tunes like D’Angelo’s “How Does It Feel” to a certain Mariah Carey banger. Along with the witty dialogue, humor, an iconic performance by Michelle Buteau as Sasha’s bestie/assistant, Veronica, food porn, and Marcus’ tennis ball raps, Always Be My Maybe has a wealth of material. It’s a film that proves that though love, romance and relationships in the 21st century unquestionably come with their various complications–if you by some stroke of luck hook up with the right person without compromising who you are, it just might be worth it in the end.
Always Be My Maybe begins streaming on Netflix May 31, 2019.