The APAHM Project Day 5: Always Be My Maybe
Updated: May 11, 2020
Film: Always Be My Maybe
Director: Nahnatchka Khan
Where to watch: Netflix
Why it made the list:
From comedy geniuses Randall Park and Ali Wong comes a romantic comedy with an almost all Asian cast that is refreshing and hilarious without making a big deal about its casting decisions.
”Always Be My Maybe” reminds me a lot of my favorite rom-com “When Harry Met Sally...“ in the sense that it takes place over many years of friendship for it to all become too complicated to repair after sleeping with each other. Marcus Kim (Randall Park) and Sasha Tran (Ali Wong) are childhood friends who sleep together at 18. 16 years pass by and Sasha is now a celebrity chef and Marcus works and lives with his dad. Sasha returns to her hometown of San Francisco for a restaurant opening and the pair reconnect, meet each other’s partners (in a hilarious sequence at a hipster restaurant with Keanu Reeves, who plays a jerk version of himself), and end up acting on their pent up romantic feelings for one another. However, Sasha is frustrated that Marcus is wasting his potential and Marcus feels that Sasha is not being herself, the two end the relationship. Marcus’ dad encourages his son to live his own life instead of using his father’s aging as an excuse, and to go after Sasha. He then flies to New York, confesses his love to Sasha, and the film ends with Sasha’s opening of her New York restaurant which is dedicated to Marcus’ late mother.
Ali Wong used to write for Park’s ABC comedy series “Fresh Off The Boat” and her comedy specials on Netflix had me rolling with laughter. Park is often seen playing in comedy films and shows or landing minor roles in movies such as “Aquaman” and “Southpaw.” Now starring as leading woman and man, put these two together, and you get a great romantic comedy. The jokes are actually funny and don’t feel forced, the emotional connection is believable, the songs are catchy and creative, and the script is free of stereotypes.
There are of course allusions to Asian customs, for instance I love it when the kids at the birthday party take off their shoes, run through the house, and put them back on again. There’s also the Asian cuisine, from high end fusion to normal dim sum, Asian spa days, and Asian parents who hate to pay tip. But let’s talk about the characters. Asian characters in Western media are often portrayed as one of the following: geeks, best friend types, edgy types, Asian Baby Girls, dragon ladies, or kung fu masters. Several of them also have broken English and speak in an accent. However, Wong and Park (as well as co-writer Michael Golamco) do an excellent job of showing that Asians can have a wide array of personalities. It’s almost as if we’re humans too.
Let’s begin with Sasha. As a child, she felt alone due to her parents always working at their store (both my maternal and paternal grandparents ran stores as well) and loved to be creative with her cooking. However, older Sasha remembers her childhood as being terrible and gets caught up in her new lifestyle, thinking it is normal and will satisfy her. Sasha’s job is a non-stereotyped career for an Asian person, who are often assumed to be doctors or lawyers. And what’s great is, she’s successful at it. As she walks the red carpet, reporters shout out at her and tell her that she looks beautiful. Additionally, Sasha is unabashedly funny, something not a lot of women are associated with or feel like they are allowed to be. Often, Asian people are known to be non-confrontational or to keep their heads down, but not Sasha. My favorite line from her is when she is breaking up with her fiancée (Daniel Dae Kim) over the phone and saying “I can’t believe I wasted my prime reproductive years on you.” She proceeds to flip off her phone and explains to him “You are getting the finger sooooo hard right now.”
Next, let’s discuss Marcus. Against the norm of being a highly successful model minority, Marcus works in the family business of heat and air, having never gone to college. When he’s not helping his dad, he smokes weed and plays at the same bar every week with his high school band. Although talented, Marcus is too afraid to make any changes to his life.
Jenny, Marcus’ girlfriend, and Keanu also introduce a personality type not often seen in Asian characters. Jenny is a free-spirit who enjoys poetry slams and helping underserved youth. Keanu is insightful, albeit pretentious, and thematic, and often acts very philosophical. These two help portray Asian Americans who are in more in touch with their feelings. This is something that I feel many Asian Americans, myself included, are not often taught when they are younger. A lot of the older generation do not outwardly express their emotions with words, and others feel the need to suppress their feelings in an effort to not look weak. I definitely recommend listening to “Asian Boss Girl”’s podcast episodes on mental health, specifically in Asian cultures.
Lastly, let’s talk about a few minor characters. Daniel Dae Kim plays Brandon, a rich and successful restauranteur who is engaged to Sasha. We see early on that Sasha and Brandon’s relationship lacks emotion and communication. Brandon leaves for a 6 month business trip to India where he proposes that he and Sasha don’t talk to each other and see other people. Here we have the jerk type, again, not often seen in Asian characters. Asian men are usually seen as the nice guy or the safe option. But Kim is definitely neither in this film. May I also mention that Asian guys have apparently been deemed to not be sexy? I think Park, Kim, and Reeves all prove this to be false with this movie. Additionally, Marcus’ dad is a cheerleader for Marcus and Sasha’s relationship who owns his own successful business and speaks perfect English. Rounding out the almost all Asian cast are Marcus’ bandmates which consist of 2 East Asians and 1 South Asian.
What I love about this movie is the fact that it could have the same story, with any other cast, and it would probably feel similarly the same. But it is with the details, the Asian references, characters, and backgrounds that make this movie stand out from other rom-coms. I once saw a video about whitewashing in Hollywood in which someone made a great point that Asian people are often not casted in lead roles because people can’t relate to them. But yet, we, as Asians, find a way to relate to all the movies with non-POC leads. Anyone of any race and background can relate to this story and its message, it’s universal. It just so happens to star Asians, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Does it deserve to stay on the list:
Jenny Han, author of the “To All The Boys” series, said this about her lead character, Lara Jean: "People didn't understand why the main character needed to be Asian. I explained to them that it wasn't that she needed to be Asian, it's that she was. ... There doesn't need to be 'a point' to her being Asian. She just is." I think that we need to stop explaining why we are taking up room on the screen. We need to stop justifying why it’s happening. Asian representation in movies and TV is not something Hollywood can give to us and say we’ve had enough and should be satisfied. There needs to continue to be more, because there are way more stories to be told. We need to continue to normalize the fact that we are people too with stories worth telling. We have talent beyond accounting, medicine, and law. That we’ve been in America for over 150 years and most of us don’t have accents (heck, the only accent I have is Memphian (yes, we have our own accent)). This film does an excellent job in showing us that Asian casts can carry a film (with an estimated 32 million views in its first month) and talk about issues that probably all of us have gone through at one time or another. Because the concept of love is universal and honestly I’m really tired of watching two white people fall in love.