I can’t remember when was the last time I was SO excited for a Netflix Original movie! But when the first trailer came across me a couple of months ago, I was immediately hooked on Always Be My Maybe.
Ok, the title alone, is a clever rift of Mariah Carey’s hit song Always Be My Baby. If you pay attention to the lyrics, well you could say it’s a bit of a spoiler for this movie. I for one love stories about romantic reunion (a la Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which highly influenced my own film Hearts Want) where the two leads who have a past reunite and sparks still fly between them. I love the way director Nahnatchka Khan sets up the story of Vietnamese-American Sasha Tran (Miya Cech) and Korean-American Marcus Kim (Emerson Min) from the time they were in grade school growing up as neighbors in San Francisco. While Sasha’s parents always leave her alone at home to work on their store, Marcus’ loving parents are often home that Sasha’s got a taste of her cooking skills from Marcus’ own mom. As they become teens, the two ended up hooking up (it’s no spoiler as it’s right there on the trailer) that ended up straining their relationship.
Fast forward 15 years later. Sasha (now played by Ali Wong) is now a famous celebrity chef living in L.A. who’s dating a hotshot, hunky manager (Daniel Dae Kim), while Marcus (Randall Park) still remains at home, working with his dad as an A/C repairman while playing in the same hometown band, Hello Peril. The stark contrast between their career and life trajectory is played on perfectly here, and a great source for jokes between the two. Wong and Park are so perfectly-cast and have such an amazing chemistry together, the most potent recipe for any good rom-com. The first time they see each other as adults is absolutely hilarious and perfectly captures how different their lives have become, yet some things remain the same.
Co-written by Wong, Park and Michael Golamco, the script is a refreshing delight in that it shows a believable world the Asian-American characters inhabit, without resorting to stereotypes. It’s also not just a generic Asian-American community, but two distinct communities of Vietnamese and Korean descents. Both Sasha and Marcus feel like real people, but yet not the typical Asian characters you see in Hollywood movies. One perfect example is Marcus’ loving and free-spirited dad Harry (James Saito) who’s as far away from the typical strict, business-minded, demanding Asian fathers as you can get. Harry is just one of the many memorable supporting characters here – I also love Sasha’s sarcastic best friend Veronica (Michelle Buteau) and Marcus’ exuberant girlfriend Jenny (Vivian Bang). But of course, one cannot review this movie without mentioning Keanu Reeves as Sasha’s new boyfriend who sure knows how to make an entrance!
Apparently Reeves is a fan of Wong’s stand-up shows and was happy to be a part of her and Park’s love story (as he was quoted). Fresh out of John Wick 3, Reeves actually filmed his scenes in between shoots for that action movie! Clearly he relished in the role of playing a version of himself, the ultra-famous Hollywood celebrity who can fork in $6k for dinner and wears expensive glasses without any lens in them, ha! The scene of their double date is a hoot and would definitely count as a rom-com classic, it even inspires a hilarious song featuring Reeves that plays at the end of the movie. As fun as Reeves’ role here, the stars of the movie are still Wong and Park, which is a testament to how well-written their characters are. If I had to nitpick however, is the Notting Hill-inspired finale. I feel that it’s perhaps deliberate and while the actors still made the scene their own, I wish they’d come up with something more original.
I hope one day that a Hollywood movie with all-Asian-American cast would no longer be considered a novelty. The success of Crazy Rich Asians opened the door (ok maybe a window) for movies like this one, which I hope will continue. Whilst CRA is perhaps more fantastical in nature, showing the top tiers of the 1% club, Always Be My Maybe is much more grounded. Now, just because the movie is important in terms of representation, it still has to be judged on its merit. I can say confidently that Always Be My Maybe is a great movie, period. It’s got everything one would want in a rom-com, plus SO much more!
The locations in the Bay Area is almost a character in itself and food naturally plays a major part in the movie, as they do in the characters’ lives. I have to mention that the production quality is top notch. From Sasha’s swanky restaurants, the ultra-posh (or should I say preposterous) restaurant where they meet Keanu are beautifully-designed, not to mention Sasha’s beautiful dresses. Oh, and those fabulous glasses! Between her chic specs and Keanu’s lens-free, dark-rimmed glasses, this movie is basically spectacles-porn!
But the secret weapon of the movie is the definitely the charming leads — Ali Wong and Randall Park are now one my of my all-time favorite rom-com couples! I’ve actually never seen any of Wong’s comedy specials, but I’ve been a fan of Park as a character actor in various movies. SO glad that they both have a chance to shine here in leading roles. You know the term ‘Asian Don’t Raisin,’ well it definitely applies to Park and Wong who are 45 and 37 respectively, yet they could believably pass as college students!
I absolutely adore this movie and I’m glad it’s on Netflix so I can watch it again and again. The zippy script fires humorous lines on all cylinders, but still packs an emotional punch. This is another great collaboration between Nahnatchka Khan and the stars Wong and Park, who worked together in the ABC series Fresh Off The Boat. I sure hope they’d all work together again in the future. Heck, I’d love to see a sequel to Always Be My Maybe, I think there’s plenty of places where the story could be expanded.