Always Be My Maybe Brings Fresh Perspective to Overworked Clichés
It’s hard to believe that any film could permeate the oversaturated rom com genre with something even remotely refreshing. Romantic comedy filmography is well-trod territory, often marked by hackneyed tropes and predictable meet-cutes that are hallmarks of the genre’s most mediocre offspring.
Some find comfort in their banality while others consider the clichés utterly eye-roll-inducing. But formulaic plotlines are somewhat unavoidable demons — in fact, there’s a school of thought which holds that there are only seven story plots in the world, retold again and again since time immemorial. Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe (released in May 2019) is partially a corroboration of this theory, but in its brightest moments exemplifies the reason we keep coming back to the same old story:
When told through a unique lens, a story compels you differently. If done right, when you finish you won’t feel cheated but rather entertained and, once in a while, enlightened. Always Be My Maybe understands this notion and its execution, while not perfect, is wholly admirable. The film is as clear an exemplar of what Netflix can do right as it is an indication of where it must improve.
Actor Randall Park and comedian Ali Wong wrote the movie’s script and found their dream director in Nahnatchka Khan, the showrunner for Fresh Off the Boat. Sasha (Wong) and Marcus (Park) are childhood friends turned teenage fling, which ends in the two losing touch for years until Sasha moves back to San Francisco as an adult.
My interest in the new Netflix original piqued when I heard that the duo looked to the 1989 rom com When Harry Met Sally…for inspiration. Nora Ephron’s unmatchable script and the captivating chemistry between leads Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal transcended the genre. It’s the epitome of big shoes to fill. The film’s team wanted to emulate When Harry Met Sally…’s preeminence as a “true two-hander,” Khan said. “It was 50/50, equally weighted. You cared about both Harry and Sally…”
Always Be My Maybe succeeded in giving equitable time to both characters development, an admirable feat. Asian American audiences – lacking sufficient representation in conventional rom com world with the occasional exception, such as the 2018 hitCrazy Rich Asians– will find a number of thoughtful cultural details throughout (think: spam and rice). A prolonged cameo from Keanu Reeves – emblematic of this summer’s “Keanu-sance”– is a refreshing and unexpected change of pace and home to the film’s funniest one-liners.
At its crux, Always Be My Maybe hits hard in surprising places and flops on soft balls. Wong and Park have a natural rapport from a well-established real-life friendship, but their romantic chemistry on-screen is lackluster. Perhaps this is why the most heartfelt moments fall flat. The film’s finale comes together in a way that feels rushed, almost as if they had a looming deadline to beat and got too antsy to maneuver a clever conclusion.
Netflix seems to crack under pressure, and the pressure is surely on. Losing the Office and Friends to NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia’s streaming platforms, respectively, is a serious blow. The company had the foresight to see this exodus coming and presciently poured resources into creating original.
The streaming platform has accumulated a catalog of hits and misses. Despite its flaws, Always Be My Maybe is rewatchable, surprisingly inventive and a call for more diverse perspectives in the movie and television industry. Everyone deserves to look on screen and see a character they can see themselves in. They’re still working out the kinks, but Wong and Park’s creation is a promising indication of what’s ahead.