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Our collective thirst for the release of a genuinely great romantic comedy has led to us looking back as well as forward, rewatching the classics ad nauseam, waiting impatiently for a worthy new addition. Those canny folks over at Netflix have been making note and as a result, they have been algorithmically constructing a string of lab-cooked, box-ticking impostors that sit creepily alongside the films they’re desperately trying to emulate. Last year’s “summer of love” transformed Set It Up, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Kissing Booth into global hits, with more than 80m accounts allegedly watching one or more, and proving yet again how much we crave a neat meet-cute.
On the big screen, this same hunger has also led to recent examples of the genre, such as Crazy Rich Asians and Long Shot, receiving wildly overblown reviews, critics apparently as eager for a romcom slam-dunk as viewers. But the search for a winner continues to roll on and so does the Netflix factory, kicking off another summer season with Always Be My Maybe, an often funny, often frustrating spin on a familiar formula.
Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park) were childhood best friends who drifted apart after a one-night stand as young adults. As thirtysomethings, the pair are leading wildly different lives, with Sasha a successful celebrity chef and Marcus still living at home and performing in the same local band. After an unexpected reunion, they find residual frostiness quickly melting and they return to their old ways. But can they turn a friendship into something more? You can probably guess the answer to that.
Written by Wong, who wrote four seasons of Fresh Off the Boat, and Park, who stars in the show, Always Be My Maybe is a rare romantic comedy with two Asian American leads, and there’s a strong sense of cultural specificity that informs the script. As leads, they’re also strong but as a romantic pairing, there’s a stifling lack of chemistry, at least as anything more than friends. The result is that as an audience, we’re perfectly happy for them to stick to being maybes and when they turn into, ahem, babies, it doesn’t feel like the heartwarming finale we’re after. Wong, whose Netflix special Baby Cobra remains one of the funniest standups in recent memory, shows that she can be a charismatic and effortlessly funny movie star, although I would have preferred more opportunities for her to showcase just how funny she can be.
Too often the film leans into over-egged sentimentality over sharp humour, a shame given how amusing the film can be, whether it’s the pair questioning Leonardo DiCaprio’s contribution to the climate crisis or Wong mumble-singing to D’Angelo. Despite clearly modelling itself on When Harry Met Sally, there’s also a tiresome overreliance on broader set pieces, from an embarrassingly forced physical confrontation to a character drunkenly relieving himself on stage, moments that feel like the result of a more contemporary studio comedy template. It’s a film that works best in the smaller moments, the less trailer-friendly scenes of the two characters just talking, the very thing that made When Harry Met Sally so engaging. It’s when the wackiness is ramped up that things start to fall apart, especially in a sequence featuring a strange cameo from Keanu Reeves as Sasha’s new celebrity beau.
Like many Netflix originals, Always Be My Maybe is lumbered with a flat, cheap aesthetic, with TV director Nahnatchka Khan failing to make the film look any better than a low-budget TV movie (even the unquestionably handsome Reeves is sabotaged by shoddy lighting). Another recurring issue is this rather smug tendency to reference Netflix during one of their shows or films and here we get that twice, most toe-curlingly as Park’s rap trio namechecks the company’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, in a song. Note to Netflix: don’t do this.
It’s admirable to see the streaming giant try to reinvigorate genres that have fallen out of favour on the big screen, the teen movie also being a notable example, but there’s also a laziness underpinning the execution. Like Set It Up before it, Always Be My Maybe hits all of the beats we have come to expect yet fails to do so well enough, as if the mere existence of a technically well-structured romantic comedy is better than nothing. Because of the ease of access, maybe it is enough for some viewers, happy to press play without expectation and any further expenditure. But for those of us still waiting for something really special, that happy ending remains out of reach.
Source: The Guardian
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