‘Always Be My Maybe’ is Good! (But 3 Ways It Could Have Been Even Better)

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I’ve long anticipated the release of Always Be My Maybe on Netflix, starring Ali Wong and Randall Park and directed by Nahnatchka Khan. Two childhood friends reconnect after sixteen years and explore whether they might be meant to be with one another. Hilarity ensues.

I recommend that everyone watch this film. I’ve come up with six reasons why I did (and three on where the film could have improved.)

ALSO, MASSIVE SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT. GO WATCH THE MOVIE ON NETFLIX AND COME BACK. SUPPORT DIVERSITY IN FILM, DANG IT.

What I love about Always Be My Maybe

The charming set up with the kids.
Child actors tend to be terrible to me, but for some reason, they do just fine at the beginning of the film. I especially connected to the realness of being a latch-key kid with hardworking immigrant parents who were never there for me in the evenings. My body was roughly 15% Spam growing up. Seriously.

Whenever Ali Wong gets mad and lists things.
I don’t watch Fresh Off the Boat regularly and didn’t realize Ali Wong wrote for the show, so like most people, I fell in love with Wong’s savage comedic style through her stand-up specials Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife on Netflix.

I can’t help but pick up on Wong’s signature delivery style: widening her eyes as she confesses some hard truths. For your consideration: the secret that Asian couples get married purely for the love of being racist together.

Randall Park’s subtle campaign to be Asian Tom Hanks.
Seriously, this guy is so adorable in a non-threatening way. He’s carries himself so well with this “everyman” persona, it’s hard to forget that he actually played Kim Jong Un once. Perhaps #StarringRandallPark should get a bit more consideration…

A pretty solid script, end-to-end.
It helps that they’re delivered by two of the biggest stars in the community right now, but the writing is pretty solid throughout this film. There are some legitimately hilarious, side-splitting scenes in this film. To name a few:

  • The dim sum scene and how a waitress serves shumai to Marcus with extreme discrimination.
  • The band meeting scene when Marcus confronts Tony about why he ghosted the others and Tony pretends to mis-communicate to avoid answering the question.
  • Pretty much every scene involving the old Toyota Corolla. (Side note: I used to own an old Toyota Corolla. This film is too real sometimes.)

A more relatable premise than Crazy Rich Asians.
Someone very dear to me noticed that while CRA was a huge, groundbreaking success for the Asian American entertainment community, its ostentatious displays of extravagance and wealth might seem to be celebrated rather than derided. Aside from Rachel Chu, everyone else is just a bit inaccessible to us.

ABMM is more grounded with the experiences of most first-generation Asian Americans with working-class families who are just getting buy. The ages of Sasha and Marcus are roughly comparable to my own, and without going into too much detail — the plot has eerie similarities to my own life...

Keanu f***king Reeves.
The movie jumps into high-gear and never misses a beat once the leading North American box office draw from the late 1990s to the early 2000s makes his entrance. There’s even an entire Twitter account dedicated to remixing this entrance to other popular songs.

Here’s my personal favorite.

In short, as of writing this piece, I’ve seen ABBM three times (it just came out a few days ago). I love what it’s done and will do for years to come for the Asian American community and having legitimate representation in popular genres.

But I can’t help but nitpick…

It’s the academic in me to notice certain things that would have elevated the film from being a solid, passable rom-com to something truly special. I’ve heard and read elsewhere that the film really wanted to be the When Harry Met Sally… of the Asian-American community, and it could have been that if it weren’t for a few little key details.

A real chemistry beyond their extensive history.
Why does Sasha like Marcus? Why does Marcus like Sasha?

The answer is somewhat unsatisfying: they’ve known each other for over twenty-three years, and they liked each other sincerely as kids. At best, this is barely serviceable for our investment in their relationship by the end, but I want something much more compelling than that.

My recommendations:
have a scene where teenage Sasha cooks one of Judy’s dishes for teenage Marcus just before Judy dies. You could also replace the scene entirely where Marcus is teaching Sasha how to fish off a pier (which does nothing to develop either character).

Two things could be established early on: Sasha shows Marcus affection through cooking authentically for him, and Marcus sees Sasha as someone who can fill the void that Judy leaves.

As for Marcus, I’d like him to write poetry for Sasha in their early days to cheer her up. Even better: instead of coming over in the beginning seen to offer soup, he slips a note under the door that invites her … through rap lyrics.

Thus, Sasha instantly associates Marcus’s music with showing affection, too.

Marcus as a truly talented artist — and learning to embrace it.
Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy Marcus’s flow, but is it meant to be perceived as something more than a cute little hobby? Beyond his performances and bedroom decor, we don’t see much of Marcus as a passionate hip-hop artist.

Unlike Sasha, who seemed to have a talent for cooking through her wizardry with … scissors, I guess, but Marcus never grew much as an artist and for apparent good reason.

My recommendations:
I would have wanted Marcus to show off his talents elsewhere — improvised lyrics, rap battles, community validation — anything for us to understand that he’s a hidden gem whose too afraid to take a leap.

Logically, when Marcus and Sasha reconnect, Sasha should try to do more to help Marcus as a celebrity, connecting him with people in the industry. He should resist, of course, and that could also contribute to another source of rich narrative tension between the two.

Sasha returning to a sense of authenticity — but in what sense?
On a personal level, this subplot bothered me a bit. Sasha grew up as a latch-key kid, forced to raise herself while her family often had to work late at their story. As an adult, Sasha’s parents nag her about spending money and brag about paying for their own meal at her restaurant, as if that should compensate for years of … neglect?

Sasha’s experience represents a common trend for first-generation working class Asian American children like me, those with parents who had to struggle to support their children at the expense of giving them the time and attention they actually needed. Life was hard for us, but it was much harder for them.

This experience should have impacted Sasha’s intense focus on her career over relationships and family as well as her tendency to depart from her family’s Vietnamese culture and favor Korean influences from Marcus’s home (or contrived fusion recipes that cater to a rich hipster demographic.)

Subsequently, these tensions should have been resolved by the end of the film. Marcus pressed Sasha on losing her sense of authenticity through her career, but to whom was she being authentic to — his culture or her own?

My recommendations:
Maybe I’m a little biased here, but I would have wanted Sasha to come to terms with her Vietnamese-ness as well. Perhaps the New York restaurant could have been authentic Vietnamese-Korean fusion. The tribute to Judy is nice, but a phrase kept swirling in my head by the end I’m coining for myself now: “Fancy Asian Savior Complex.”

Sasha needed to confront her family for not being present in her life, and her family should have atoned. Instead of paying for their meal offscreen, her family should have been disapproving of her career as a chef, only to enjoy her food in person and reminding her that career isn’t everything.

Again, I want to emphasize how much I enjoyed Always Be My Maybe. I’ll likely watch it a few more times to get that Netflix algorithm going. However, I think it’s just as important to support such films with worthy praise and justifiable constructive critique.

This is how I show affection. Very Asian, I know.

There will be more films like this one. I just hope that they strive to be better.

— Lee

Write with intention. Think with compassion.

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