Always Be My Maybe

Ali Wong and Randall Park star in Always Be My Maybe on Netflix.

Soulmates are rare, unless you're browsing Netflix's deep well of rom-coms, new and old. In that case, soulmates are everywhere. But here's the thing you don't see everywhere: how hard it is to really get it right with your soulmate. Real life romance is messy, complicated and involves as much luck as lip-locking. Ali Wong, famous for her brilliant stand-up comedy routines and razor-sharp insight into the weirdness of being a woman, challenges the idea of soulmates in Always Be My Maybe, in which she shares the screen with Randall Park, Daniel Dae Kim and yes, Keanu Reeves, and the movie's efforts result in just under two hours of acute comedy, heart-warming romance and yes, a healthy dose of Asian cinema magic.

Always Be My Maybe follows Sasha Tran (Wong), a rising celebrity chef who reconnects with her childhood best friend Marcus Kim (Park), who she hasn't spoken with in 16 years, after an ill-timed hookup put a knife in their friendship. When Sasha returns to San Francisco to open a new restaurant, she and Marcus' connection is put to the test, and they are forced to confront whether the ongoing "almost" of their relationship is doomed to remain an "almost" for always. 

Ali Wong loses none of the powerful energy that propelled her comedy into the mainstream. Sasha is unapologetically ambitious with a sincere longing for the kind of connection she had with Marcus in their youth. Wong's jokes, biting and blunt, are just as funny in a cinematic environment as they are in her standup. Her delivery is sharp, and she makes a case for casting her in more film roles as soon as possible. She's got range, folks. Similarly, Randall Park is the perfect leading man. He oozes relatable charm and sweetness, and every half-smile Marcus sends Sasha's way melts the heart. 

Wong and Park, who co-wrote the film along with Michael Golamco, are the perfect match. Their dialogue has the kind of natural ease that feels organic and is an absolute joy to watch. The big rom-com speeches are all fine, but their little quips to each other are the highlights. They ground the movie, which has about half a dozen other subplots sprinkled in, and their passion for the material shows in their performances. Director Nahnatchka Khan's eye for comedy shines in all of their scenes.

Keanu Reeves is, without a doubt, the funniest part of Always Be My Maybe. He plays a heightened version of himself and embraces the ridiculousness of his celebrity status with theatrical silliness. His entrance is so completely extra that I belly-laughed until my sides hurt. None of that "I'm chuckling because this joke half-reminded me of something I've seen before" nonsense. No, Keanu Reeves killed this part like he was John Wick and it killed his dog. He's an absolute trip, and he and Wong have so much fun with each other that it's impossible not to fall in love with him as quickly as Sasha does.

Going into this movie, I was ready for a cookie-cutter "old friends reunite and fall in love all over again" story. I'm a seasoned rom-com fan; I know what to expect and I accept that cheese comes with the territory. But I was caught off guard by the complexity Wong, Park and Golamco wove into the relationship between Sasha and Marcus. Love is complicated, and love stories are so much more memorable when they reflect that. It's subversive in that it embraces the differences and imperfections in Sasha and Marcus' relationship, akin to When Harry Met Sally, just ... Asian. Now, the movie takes the idea of complicated to heart with a little too much vigor (like I said earlier, there are a LOT of subplots), but the central story is strong enough that it emerges from the extra stuff and remains interesting as it progresses.

Side note: Don't watch this on an empty stomach. There is so much delicious-looking food in this movie that my stomach was growling by the end.

It's such a delight to have a movie like this, in which an Asian-American woman falls in love with Asian-American men, not feel like a novelty. It's been a great stretch for Asian representation in rom-coms between this, Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I've Loved Before. There's many nods to Asian-American culture from the get-go in this (Spam and rice, big potlucks, leftover soup in a Thermos for lunch... I feel seen), but nothing feels insincere. That's what happens when artists of color are given the ability to tell our own stories: They ring true.

Always Be My Maybe is very, magnificently Asian, but it's not the kind of Asian representation that feels shoe-horned. It's not a collection of orientalist motifs or a Miss Saigon tragedy. It tackles the complicated dynamics in immigrant families.  It's a study of the paralyzing fear and life-altering happiness that love can bring. It stars an unapologetically ambitious and driven Asian-American woman, who pursues her dreams and lands not just one, but three Asian men who are not forced to be punchlines. It's a freaking rom-com, in all of its cheesy, melodramatic, epic glory. And it's a world full of vivid color, wicked humor and pure, comedic joy.

Always Be My Maybe is available for streaming on Netflix.

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Science fiction-loving senior studying arts & culture journalism and theater. Reach me at gabrielavelasquez@mail.missouri.edu or (901) 216-9147. Or check a coffee shop with a nitro blend.

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