Like many stories, if you can land the ending with all the right notes, then it doesn’t quite matter if it was awkward getting there. That seems to be the case with Netflix’s latest romantic comedy, ‘Always Be My Maybe.’ Directed by Nahnatchka Khan and written by Michael Golamco and its lead stars, Ali Wong and Randall Park, the movie never really hits high gear and sorts of just breezes through its turning points despite its talented cast.
In fact, it’s strange because I’ve seen Ali Wong’s standup comedies on Netflix and Randall Park is normally hilarious, but in ‘Always Be My Maybe’ they don’t seem to be landing their jokes. The film is the story of two childhood best friends who have gone their separate ways — Ali Wong’s Sasha moves to LA to become a famous celebrity chef while Randall Park’s Marcus had stayed home in San Francisco to work with his dad and play gigs at a local dive with his band — but end up meeting again as grown-ups.
It’s interesting to try and explore that romantic-interests-from-different-worlds concept, rewriting the old-fashioned idea that either way is wrong. Sasha is obsessed about the elite world that she finds herself in while Marcus is a small-town guy (not that San Francisco is small) but he’s content with taking care of his dad and being around his neighborhood.
It’s a fresh take on an old dynamic, especially when they make better arguments now about both sides of the coin, but it veers towards the reductive and derivative when they try to demonize either side. It comes off as one-dimensional when Marcus makes fun of the high cuisine world of Sasha or the way the film makes Marcus off as some loser.
And to top it off, Sasha and Marcus are presented to us first as kids and teenagers, and they are funny and innocent and lovable. The moment they get older, they are both so stuck-up and demanding of each other, which sort of takes away the romance for me.
From watching Ali Wong’s comedy routines, she’s a ball-buster and crass and straight-forward, and her Sasha seems like a sanitized version of Ali Wong’s standup persona that it doesn’t quite work. I think it would have worked better had she been straight-up strong and crass and unapologetic or shifted to a completely different tone altogether. The way the characters grew up and the way they were portrayed made them both hard to like, which I sort of needed for me to be sold on the love story.
And Nahnathcka Khan’s direction made the film feel so small and orchestrated. Scenes didn’t feel organic and every moment felt like a set-up to the next. Maybe that’s why Wong and Park couldn’t really let loose because everything felt so scripted. There were moments that looked and felt improvised, which were the moments that worked best in the romantic-comedy genre.
What the film does manage to accomplish is when it hits the finale and the characters can actually get emotional. Park and Wong seem to finally be able to really just let loose and deliver an ending with just the right emotional peak that put tears in my eyes.
I really wanted to like ‘Always Be My Maybe’ with its talented cast (and a great performance from Keanu Reeves as a rival for Sasha’s affections), but the direction sort of failed to bring the romance or the comedy up to full gear early on. Luckily, it nails the landing and left me smiling and with a tear in my eye and I hope that should Park and Wong team up again for another project, that this one would really let them go all out.
Always Be My Maybe launches on Netflix on Friday, May 31, 2019.