Always Be My Maybe (2019)
★★ / ★★★★
Here is yet another romantic comedy with a mostly Asian cast that stinks of cable TV quality. In the middle of it, although I was enjoying the chemistry between Ali Wong and Randall Park, I could not help but wonder why the material must consistently rely on the same old tropes that white Hollywood has recycled thousands of times before. There is nothing original about it. And so despite all the delectable soup, the spicy ramen, the spam and rice, and the fact that characters leave their shoes by the front door when entering a home, the overall experience that “Always Be My Maybe” offers is vanilla, unmemorable, and a big disappointment.
It is not without some redeeming qualities. For a while the screenplay introduces the possibility that because Sasha and Marcus, friends since childhood but had grown apart after a big fight during senior year of high school, have become so different from one another after sixteen years, there remain signs that the story may not end up the way we think or want. The former has gone on to become a celebrity chef who lives in Los Angeles while the latter has chosen to remain in San Francisco in order to take care of his aging father. The tension between a highly ambitious individual and someone who has found happiness in his hometown brings up the question of whether the two—although they are cute together—are actually right for each other in the long run.
However, this question is not dealt with enough focus, clarity, and consistently intelligent or refreshing writing. Instead, we are bombarded with the usual clichés involving the protagonists having a boyfriend or girlfriend who is clearly not right for either of them, snarky supporting characters who make an appearance to say one amusing line of dialogue only to disappear again for long periods of time, and the usual drama about having to win back that special someone by traveling across the country and making a speech in front of everyone. It is all so tired, exhausting, boring, and interminable. I checked my watch at least three times.
Perhaps the best thing about the film is a cameo of an actor who has done great work from the mid-80s till today. He graces the screen for about fifteen minutes and completely pulls the rug from those who are supposed to be the main stars. It is such an unexpected small role, but it stands out. The character he plays is a walking exaggeration… but his approach, for the most part, is far from it. He internalizes the comedy and combines it with pitch-perfect comic timing. And that is why the funniest scenes are the ones with him in it. Too bad the rest of the picture is a drag.
“Always Be My Maybe,” directed by Nahnatchka Khan, lacks authenticity that runs deep—and not just in terms of the romantic aspect of the story. There are jokes, for instance, about gentrification in San Francisco, highly affluent people dressing down, and the types of ridiculous food served in posh restaurants. It all feels so forced; these are low hanging fruit served to the audience without much creativity or enthusiasm. Jokes about the lifestyles and the people with whom we are supposed to care about would have been more appropriate. The story, after all, is supposed to be about them.
The Interview (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
Following the one thousandth episode of Skylark Tonight, a television show specializing in silly entertainment interviews, the fame-hungry host, Dave (James Franco), comes across a piece of evidence that the notorious Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a big fan. Dave suggests to his best friend and show producer, Aaron (Seth Rogen), that they ought to try to interview the man because it would surely reel in the big ratings and it is a chance for Aaron to be taken seriously by his peers. The producer is not convinced that the North Korean government will even entertain the idea so imagine his surprise when he gets an official call offering to initiate the process.
“The Interview,” based on the screenplay by Dan Sterling, offers a very funny first half but begins to wilt around the halfway point. A comedy that dares to have a running time of slightly below two hours should have some serious firepower that propels it forward. This film neither has the endurance nor the consistency to be riotously funny all the way. Notice that the second hour drags. Perhaps it might have benefited the final product if it had spent more time on the cutting room floor.
Standing out right away is Franco’s performance as a dim-witted narcissist. Though his histrionic ways of expressing his character’s fervor for the job may prove divisive, his energy makes up for the some of the jokes that do not work on paper nor in execution. I liked that he appears willing to do whatever it takes to get a laugh. The joy in the performance is infectious and one can make a convincing case that the character must be played with a flair for the dramatic given the very nature of his occupation.
Rogen is an effective sounding board for Franco’s constant exaggeration. He plays it smaller but not so minimized that his character fades into the background. Thus, we believe the Dave-Aaron partnership within and outside of the show. It helps that the actors have a slightly different style of comedy and in physicality. As a result, the bromance between them, purposefully awkward at times, works for the most part.
Less amusing is the drawn out section involving the television host and the dictator forging an unexpected friendship. Though I was amused by it initially, I grew tired of it just as quickly. There are only so many ways to keep things fresh between the two especially when we know exactly where the story is heading. More specifically, we know that chaos is bound to happen during or after the interview so it is most unnecessary to withhold getting there. The picture is far from efficient.
Lizzy Caplan who plays a CIA agent assigned to maneuver an assassination attempt is completely wasted. She has no funny line and does nothing particularly interesting or surprising. Caplan plays one of the two women who is supposed to have an important role in the plot, but her talent is not utilized in such a way that would make us like her or see more of her other than to look good in a power suit.
Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, “The Interview” has hilarious cameos during its opening scenes and so the bar is set quite high. Although several attempts are made to meet it, not one is able to surpass it. Particularly painful and a bore to sit through are the action scenes in the third act. It is plain and simple laziness.
The People I’ve Slept With (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Angela (Karin Anna Cheung) was a girl who loved the simple pleasure of sex. Although she had been called a “slut” for sleeping with so many men and women of varying sexualities, derogatory comments didn’t get to her. In her mind, a “slut” was just a woman with the morals of a man. When she took a pregnancy test and the results pointed to her egg being fertilized, she made it a mission to sort through the pictures of men she slept with and find the identity of the father. There were four contenders: Nice-But-Boring-Guy (Randall Park), Mystery Man (Archie Kao), 5-Second-Guy (Danny Vasquez), and Mr. Hottie (Chris Zylka). “The People I’ve Slept With,” based on the screenplay by Koji Steven Sakai, was an uproarious sort-of romantic comedy, impressive in terms of its attitude about sex and sexuality and, more importantly, the way it treated its Asian-American woman protagonist with respect even though she was with child and had no idea about who the father was. I found it refreshing that Angela, although she loved sex, wasn’t featured as someone who wore skimpy clothes and heavy makeup like most Asian women in action films nor did she have to pretend to be a shy, innocent flower whenever she was around her family. It was critical that she was portrayed as a friend anybody could hang out with because the material asked us to relate to her struggles in not knowing what to do when something was thrown on her lap and clearly she was unequipped to handle it. Although a comedy on the outside, Quentin Lee, the director, wisely gave Cheung enough moments to deliver a level of seriousness in her character’s situation without coming off too forced, too sad, too desperate. As the laughter simmered down toward the middle, it was when we began to realize that being pregnant and not having the support of the father was no joke. I appreciated the picture’s effort in showing that support from family and friends do have their limits. Exploring loneliness is often disregarded in comedies because it is too easy for the material to slip into joylessness. I found it quite bold that the film managed to look into that emotion even for just a short period of time. However, I wished that the subplot involving the break-up between Gabriel (Wilson Cruz), Angela’s best friend, and Lawrence (Rane Jameson) were kept at a minimum or had been excised altogether. Gabriel and Lawrence were adorable when together but there was no dramatic gravity established when they were apart. In turn, Angela was relegated as the friend cheering for the gay couple to get back together. Even though the courtship which made way for a healing process had funny moments, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Isn’t this supposed to be Angela’s story first?” What the script needed more was Angela’s relationship with her sister, Juliet (Lynn Chen). Juliet represented what was expected of a woman. Angela and Juliet clashed but their friction never reached a boiling point because they didn’t have enough scenes together. “The People I’ve Slept With” was nonetheless a pleasant surprise. It may not give us easy answers in the end, some may even argue that it didn’t have an ending altogether, but the answers that were shared felt appropriate.