I’m adding my voice to the chorus of cheers for Always Be My Maybe, the Netflix rom com starring Ali Wong (American Housewife) and Randall Park (Fresh Off the Boat). I loved watching Crazy Rich Asians (CRA), mostly for the spectacle and example of it, but I hardly recognized any of the characters as anyone I knew. The Asians I grew up with were just not that rich. Not so with this one! Always Be My Maybe is about a couple of middle class Asian American kids, Sasha and Marcus, who grow up as next-door neighbors and best friends, who have to find their way to each other as adults after some life changing events in their teen years.
This story I recognize – the removal of shoes at home, the cooking of food, the awkward sex. Us! It’s also much funnier than CRA.
In addition to the solid character development, this movie does a better job with solidarity politics. Lots of Black folk legit critiqued the cultural appropriation/minstrelsy of the Awkafina character in CRA. In Always, Park’s character Marcus is part of an all Asian hip hop band that, without saying so explicitly, connects Asian immigrant belonging struggles to the inspiration of hip hop. The band is pretty good, but it’s clear they don’t come from the Bronx. There’s also an actual Black character so that the use of Black culture isn’t separated from actual Black people.
I have heard some complaints that it’s a typical formulaic rom com. It has a happy ending, and I’m ok with that. If it didn’t, it would be a drama instead of a rom com. Genres exist because people love a lot of different kinds of stories (also for business purposes).
But Always does break some critical movie traditions. In Variety, Courtney Howard notes that,
For a genre encumbered with unrealistic notions of romance and how to attain it, Khan’s feature feels wildly progressive in many ways. It never pits women against each other, fighting over the affections of a man, nor does it require either protagonist to sacrifice themselves for the other’s happiness. Both Marcus, who needs to break out of his comfort zone, and Sasha, who needs to remember what home means, are forced to do the necessary change to meet one another’s best selves in the middle.
There’s a lot more to love in Always, and I’m sure it’s going to become one of those movies I’ll watch many times, as you should.