My queues across various streaming services are out of control. Starting this summer I’m going to put a dent in these queues and review the movies that I think are worth writing about.
Movies like Always Be My Maybe are an example of why I’ve eschewed a proper rating system. No stars, no letter grades, no score, just thoughts captured in paragraphs eventually leading to a summation. If I had to rely on a rating I’d be dissatisfied with however many stars or points or thumbs that I “awarded” to Always Be My Maybe. I can’t think of a grade I could give it that wouldn’t be too high or too low or both. What’s the ideal score for a romantic comedy that is exceptionally funny, not really romantic, repeatedly stumbles when it comes to characterization and drama, but nonetheless features exceedingly likable actors who make the characters acceptable when they shouldn’t be?
This is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time. Such a long time, in fact, that I had recently started to accept that film comedies weren’t my ticket anymore. Even the ones that amused me didn’t make me laugh much, if at all, they just left me with a slight smile and thoughts somewhere in the neighborhood of, “Yeah, I can see how people would find this humorous.” Then along came Always Be My Maybe, which made me laugh so hard in spots that I missed the next joke and had to run the movie back so I could once again laugh so hard that I missed the next next joke. Not only is the movie funny, but it has a more complete comedic arsenal with which to assault the viewer than most of its genre kin. It can be witty, it can be crude, it can be absurd to a point that’s nearly farcical, it can be visually funny or audibly funny or both. It even has a terrific spit take gag. There are parts of this movie that I know will make me laugh just from thinking about them for weeks to come, and possibly much longer.
Ah, but comedy–like horror–is highly subjective. What makes me laugh might make you yawn, and vice versa. While there are those of us who can appreciate the execution of a joke even if it doesn’t truly amuse us, I’d wager most people aren’t going to give a comedy credit for craft and form alone if it doesn’t punch their funny bone. That makes it a sometimes difficult to recommend a comedy, even if it’s to someone whose sense of humor you know and perhaps share.
Somewhat less subjective are things such as storytelling fundamentals, dramatic elements and sensible characterization. Unfortunately these are all areas where Always Be My Maybe falls flat. The male lead, Marcus, can apparently bite his tongue and control his penchant for being a dick with his irritably granola girlfriend, but he’ll randomly flip his switch to “Asshole Mode” when with the female lead, Sasha, just to give the plot somewhere to go. Sasha’s parental neglect issues are important enough to be one of the movie’s critical emotional beats near its resolution, yet it’s presented via so much telling, as opposed to showing, that it almost made me want to become a strict adherent to the “show don’t tell rule” that I’ve mostly believed to be a gross oversimplification. Marcus’s mother dies early in the film and this loss is supposed to hover over his character and his motivations, but he never comes across as particularly broken up about it. So on and so forth.
Sasha has the more capably-handled emotional arc, but her stakes are a thousand leagues lower than Marcus’s, which is magnified by the fact that, again, he’s the asshole in this situation, and also a few steps away from being a deadbeat. If he doesn’t end up with her he’ll remain an unfulfilled disappointing version of himself in almost every respect. If Sasha doesn’t end up with Marcus, all she’ll have is her immensely successful restaurateur career, incredibly supportive best friend, godmotherhood, and her pick of potential suitors ranging from her fickle, callous-but-honest and equally successful (and more tangibly supportive than Marcus) fiance, to actual Keanu Reeves. What exactly is her worst case scenario here? That she’ll end up with a guy who’s one or two steps down from actual Keanu Reeves but is still less of a dick than Marcus? She’s the easiest character to root for, but it’s like rooting for a lovable Olympian to win their fifth gold medal of the games. How bad can you feel for them if they “only” end up with four golds and maybe a bronze?
And yet, Ali Wong is so great in this not-great-role that you regularly forget how not-great it is. Similar praise can be heaped on Randall Park as Marcus. Wong manages to convincingly feel like a bit of a fun and funny underdog who might not quite get literally everything she’s wants in her extraordinary life (despite getting everything she’s worked for in said life_. Park, meanwhile, still manages to be funny even when he’s being insufferable. The supporting cast is fine as well, with the standouts being Michelle Buteau as Sasha’s friend / … manager (?) and James Saito as Marcus’s father.
Oh yes, and Keanu Reeves as himself. It’s no mystery by now that he’s in this film and yes, he’s exactly as glorious as you’ve heard he is. This is not just an internet hype train running with the brakes off, this is not a drill, this is the real deal. Keanu Reeves is a bonafide funny ass dude.
And Always Be My Maybe is a bonafide funny ass movie, which I can’t stress enough. I’m probably harder on rom-com storylines than most, so perhaps take my criticisms with an even larger grain of salt than usual. I blame it on my adoration for Love Jones, which manages to feature standard rom-com implausibilities (a poet / open-mic host / novelst meets a photographer’s assistant / aspiring and talented professional photagrapher…) and marries it to a series of relatively “realistic” relationship complications. I shouldn’t look for every rom-com to match Love Jones, though; not every movie can be the greatest romance that’s ever been told.
Final Grade: Have I mentioned it’s funny. Because I found it “doubled-over laughing and fighting to catch my breath” funny. Couple that with terrific leads and it’s enough to render its flaws unimportant. See this film.