Netflix continues their strong rom-com game with Ali Wong and Randall Park’s Always Be My Maybe, released on the streaming platform today. At a sweet hour and 40 minutes (including credits, and yes, you’ll want to sit through those), the film feels both fresh and achingly familiar, infused with Wong and Park’s inherent charm.
Sasha Tran (Wong) is a celebrity chef about to open a new restaurant in San Francisco. Her fiance (Daniel Dae Kim) decides he wants to travel and see other people before they get married. Good thing Sasha’s new restaurant is opening in her hometown, and that her childhood best friend Marcus (Park) is still hanging around, singing in his band and working for his dad’s company. The two were really close as kids. Since Sasha’s parents spent a lot of time working at their shop, Sasha would often be left alone at her house. She found solace not just in Marcus’ company, but in the food she would cook for herself and the meals Marcus’ mother Judy taught her to make. Things fell apart when Judy unexpectedly dies right before they graduate high school. They hook-up in an awkward attempt at reconciling their grief over the loss, and then they part ways.
Years later and they are both on their own paths to self-discovery. Sasha is successful, and the film is great in at not punishing her for her success. She just needs to reconnect with her first love — love. What better way to do that than being home, where that love first started? For Marcus, he’s been stuck in a mediocre lifestyle since his mother died, using her death as an excuse to never move on in his life. His band is still playing at the local bar, even though his band mates want to move things across town, where they’ll find more success. He has no aspirations to leave his comforting block he’s carved out for himself in San Francisco.
Always Be My Maybe isn’t reinventing the wheel when it comes to rom-coms, but the film still puts a lot of heart into telling Sasha and Marcus’ stories, letting them shine individually as well as together.
Perhaps what makes Always Be My Maybe so memorable though is its quirkiness. It can be weird at times, but never for the sake of being so. In fact, what could easily have been a cheap celebrity stunt appearance turns into one of the funniest bits from film this year. Timed perfectly to capitalize on the film community’s surge of love for Keanu Reeves, Reeves plays a heightened version himself who meets Sasha one night as the two end up in a very short-lived romance. Reeves’ involvement points to the more ridiculous aspects of celebrity — the lavish houses and insane ideas of high-end restaurants. This works as a vehicle for Marcus’ insecurities as well as showcasing how far from “home” Sasha has gotten. Compare the dinner scene between Sasha, Marcus, Keanu, and Marcus’ girlfriend Jenny to the more personable family dinner scenes in the beginning. Even though Reeves’ appearance was spoiled in the trailer, it doesn’t ruin the surprise or the fun.
Wong and Park have great chemistry. Wong in particularly really shines as Sasha, while Park nails the comedy (and rap) beats. Always Be My Maybe might have moments of strong sentimentality bordering on cliche, but its charm is worth the price.