As far as Netflix comedy specials go, three figures dominate in my eyes: John Mulaney, with endearingly awkward takes on his own lameness; Hannah Gadsby, one of the most daring performers working today; and Ali Wong, the raunchy focus of today’s review. These three could hardly be more different as performers, but the successes brought on by their stand-up specials for the streaming site have been wonderful to see. Most recently, this has been in the form of the latter’s new romcom Always Be My Maybe, which expertly (and surprisingly sweetly) plays off her crude, no bullshit, fuck you persona.
Beginning with an understated, nostalgic look at the leading pair’s life in the mid-90s as neighbours, Always Be My Maybe then switches to fifteen years in the future – the same length of time that Ali Wong’s Sasha and Randall Park’s Marcus have avoided each other after an awkward first time together. Unshockingly to anyone who has seen this sort of film before, the two meet again through a chance encounter and reconnect, Sasha now a celebrity chef traveling the world, and Marcus stuck in a rut long after the death of his mother. Refreshingly, director Nahnatchka Khan doesn’t let the audience think we’re watching the union of two perfect people: Sasha can be cold, Marcus can be blunt, and both really need to get over themselves so they can kiss already. This thankfully doesn’t stop the characters from being likable, however, and although you can likely guess the outcome of the film, you’re still glued to the screen rooting for these two to get together.
This is in no small part due to the fantastic performances of both Wong and Park as the beating heart of the romcom. Yes, Wong just plays herself here – I would have been severely disappointed if that wasn’t the case. She’s quick, she’s smart, and she is more than a match for Park, who frequently reminded me of Ryan Reynolds in his brilliant portrait of a charming yet frustrating romantic lead. Another standout comes in the form of Michelle Buteau as Veronica, Sasha’s best friend and assistant. It makes a whole lot of sense for the best friend of an Ali Wong character to essentially be providing damage control for her chaos, but Veronica is more than just a useful best friend, and the fleshing out of her pregnancy and her relationship with her wife is a lovely detail amid the farce of the film.
Of course, like every other Netflix romcom, Always Be My Maybe isn’t without its flaws. As previously stated, the film starts with a look at Sasha’s young home life, from which her parents were almost entirely absent, and this leads…basically nowhere. Sure, her drive and independence are given more grounding, but when her parents show up later in the film, the scenes don’t feel truly earned. And while I appreciated the amount that Sasha’s success was celebrated, the sensationalized celebrity culture that was depicted at every turn went uncriticised; when you’re starting with warm, low key houses and immediately switching to mansions, the change can feel a little jarring. But for me, all of these flaws were completely made up for by one fantastic choice: the decision to include Keanu Reeves, playing himself, as a romantic rival. The scenes that feature Reeves make up what is undoubtedly the funniest cinematic 15 minutes of 2019 – I won’t spoil them here, but I promise you, the film is worth it for these alone.
As a white English woman, I can’t really comment upon the impact of the Asian American representation in this film, but it seems as though some viewers are feeling seen in details as small as Sasha removing her shoes before entering the house and frying herself spam for dinner, which makes me genuinely thrilled to hear. In a vacuum, this is a silly, engaging little film about a childhood romance extending into the complexities of adulthood; beyond the screen, it’s a celebration of cultural identity, the importance of which is indescribable for many people. In both of these contexts, Always Be My Maybe excels, and I highly recommend it for a cozy evening of optimistic entertainment.