Always Be My Maybe (3 stars)

Always Be My Maybe

Fresh elements merge with formula in this enjoyable romcom starring Ali Wong and Randall Park

Friendships which blossom into romance are one of the most-seen staples of the romcom. If Always Be My Maybe reinvigorates the formula with its Asian-American leads, deadpan delivery and welcome forays into the surreal, it adheres, somewhat jarringly, to many of the genre's other conventions. Seasoned scene-stealer Randall Park (The Interview) and stand-up Ali Wong join forces for the debut feature of director Nahnatchka Khan, creator of TV's Fresh Off the Boat – the show in which Park stars and Wong used to write for.

The coming-home narrative follows celebrity chef Sasha Tran (Wong) as she returns to San Francisco to open a new restaurant. There she reconnects with childhood bestie Marcus (Park), the man she disastrously lost her virginity to – an encounter so awkward it led to a 15-year estrangement. While she's soaring career-wise, Marcus is living his life fearfully, working for his father's heating and air conditioning business, still playing in his high school band.

In this candy-bright comedy – written by Park, Wong and Michael Golamco – fancy venues and food porn provide some shimmer but they're a distracting concession to the commercial in a film that finds its feet in its idiosyncrasy and eye-rolling interactions.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't always convince; in its hurry to hit predictable narrative beats it stutters, rushing its character development and often failing to connect emotionally. There are little digs at the caprices of the rich and famous, and a running theme of authenticity versus selling-out for success, but it's hardly revelatory stuff. Instead, intermittently sparkling wit, oddball song lyrics, and a couple of stand-out set-pieces provide the film's fuel.

Park's brand of crabby bemusement, in particular, generates plenty of chuckles. Ever the supporting star, in film at least, he deserves this kind of prominence and is largely gainfully employed as a reluctant romantic. There's something enjoyably uncompromising about the fact that Marcus is such a colossal downer, and Sasha ultimately accepts him for who he is, even if it would drive you mad. If Wong is a good fit for her role too, she's less well served by the material – the tendency of women in romcoms to be stuck playing it relatively straight seems to be a hard nut to crack. While the very funny Charlyne Yi is squandered in a tiny part as one of Marcus's bandmates.

But it's arguably the appearance of a playfully cast Keanu Reeves – in what amounts to a juicily protracted cameo – that's the film's USP. As well as reminding us of his underutilised gift for comedy, he makes an inspired adversary for Park, whose reactions to the escalating madness are simply priceless.

Taking a punt on fresh or long-sidelined voices continues to be a welcome feature of modern comedy. Wong and Park are terrifically talented and bring their own distinctive schtick, even if they are working within the straightjacket of the same old story.

Available to watch on Netflix from Fri 31 May.

Always Be My Maybe

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 41min
  • Directed by: Nahnatchka Khan
  • Cast: Ali Wong, Randall Park

Renowned chef Sasha (Wong) returns to San Francisco to open a new restaurant and reconnects with childhood bestie Marcus (Park). The story isn’t always convincing, with rushed character development, but Wong and Park are terrifically talented, even if Wong is lumbered with having to play too straight.

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