Ali Wong first impressed audiences with her outrageous and raunchy Netflix standup special Baby Cobra — performed with confidence while the comedian was eight-months pregnant — she later recaptured the concept with her second pregnancy. Her new appearance, another Netflix debut, is in the romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe, where a new, less-raunchy side of Ali Wong is displayed.
Wong plays a young girl in San Francisco, Sasha Tran, whose parent’s constant absence while they run a local shop pushes her to spend time with the family next door, the Kims. Sasha spends her time with Mrs. Kim as they prepare traditional dishes and runs around the local spots with Marcus Kim, played as an adult by Randall Park. Years later, after Mrs. Kim dies, the emotional Sasha and Marcus have an intimate moment in the backseat of his Corolla. They attempt to act like the dynamic hasn’t changed, but after a blow-up of emotions at the local Burger King, it becomes apparent these two best friends can no longer act the same.
Fast forward to 2019, sixteen years after the infamous Corolla and Burger King incidents. Sasha has moved to Los Angeles and jumped to fame as a celebrity chef, but Marcus has remained at home, stuck in a similar time, place, and teenage bedroom as before while still playing in the same local band. When the two are reunited, the history of romantic feelings collides with the reality that their lifestyles are completely different.
I expected a writing collaboration with Park and Wong, both who have incredibly impressive resumes in the comedic field, to be an experience of possibly-pee-your-pants laughter every few minutes. However, going in with this mindset only puts the plot of the movie in a tiny box. The writing of the plot is okay, but the actual development and complexity of the characters are where the duo’s ability behind the scenes stands out. Thankfully, this is more about the characters than the typical romantic comedy cliches that the film depends on moving forward with.
The lack of exuberant comedy Wong is known for doesn’t hurt Always Be Your Maybe, as it shows that she is versatile enough to lead in a feature film. Comedy isn’t erased because there is just enough relief for the heavyweight of serious topics that the characters go through. Plus, the funny moments between characters feel much more natural than if the film had decided to try and keep up with the comedy in Wong’s standup specials. The mix of realistic humor, real-life situations, and an original conflict standing between the lovers make for a very charming story. It doesn’t hurt that the two leads are also talented in their comedic timing due to their impressive resume.
The writers aren’t the only two that should be credited with making a character-driven, feel-good movie. Director Nahnatchka Khan, best known for creating the sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, uses her ability to create realistic relationship moments similar to those seen on primetime television and mixes them with the tried and true tactics of the ‘rom-com’ genre. Always Be My Maybe feels a little like When Harry Met Sally but with less Kat’s Deli sandwiches and a lot more crystallized lavender air bubbles and no main white characters.
One of the less believable, yet very necessary, parts of the movie features Keanu Reeves as Keanu Reeves. Well, it is a more satirical, less personable version of the fan favorite movie star but Reeves cameo is one of the best parts of the movie. He appears in a scene where Sasha and Keanu go on a double date with Marcus and his eclectic girlfriend. Though some of the film alludes to commentary on gentrification in little lines here and there, this restaurant and its dishes are the epitomai of what is wrong with change due to anything trendy in areas once occupied by a population of mostly people of color, like San Francisco. The restaurant is expensive and has dishes where wearing headphones is part of the experience. This scene is a catalyst for the ultimate realization for the two former childhood best friends. As the real personalities of all four characters, even the fictional Keanu, is displayed, Sasha and Marcus are pushed closer and closer.
Always Be My Maybe is an easy watch and an excellent return to the fun romantic comedy genre. The progression and development of the characters along with the onscreen charisma and talent of Ali Wong and Randall Park is worth the watch. Plus, Keanu Reeves as Keanu Reeves, enough said.