Ali Wong and Randall Park cant spin enough charm from a flat-looking regurgitation of a formula we know all too well
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 theyre desperately trying to emulate. Last years summer of love transformed Set It Up, To All the Boys Ive 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 theres a strong sense of cultural specificity that informs the script. As leads, theyre also strong but as a romantic pairing, theres a stifling lack of chemistry, at least as anything more than friends. The result is that as an audience, were perfectly happy for them to stick to being maybes and when they turn into, ahem, babies, it doesnt feel like the heartwarming finale were 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 its the pair questioning Leonardo DiCaprios contribution to the climate crisis or Wong mumble-singing to DAngelo. Despite clearly modelling itself on When Harry Met Sally, theres 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. Its 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. Its when the wackiness is ramped up that things start to fall apart, especially in a sequence featuring a strange cameo from Keanu Reeves as Sashas new celebrity beau.
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