Netflix 'Always be My Maybe' review: Ali Wong and Randall Park's romcom is a great foot forward in breaking gender norms in a relationship
Best friends who can make you laugh when you are feeling your worst will always hold a special place in your life. They do not bring light to the darkest corners, but understand them as no one else does. What happens when sex is added to the mix, and unsuccessfully at that? There is so much space for drama here, but that is exactly what Ali Wong and Randall Park's romantic comedy 'Always Be My Maybe' stays away from. Or more accurately, the Netflix film subverts the elements of a dramatic rom-com, and in the best way possible.
Now, the plot of the film is a breath of fresh air, old wine in a pretty new bottle. That is, however, not the only thing that the film's storyline has achieved. Sure, we have movies where best friends have sex, fall in love, and yadda yadda, but 'Always Be My Maybe' is not about love, or not just. When you scratch the surface, which is mostly humor of the great variety, it is about representation, equality, and respect in a relationship that doesn't depend on gender norms.
The film also serves up a social commentary on the way the world runs today, side-by-side with its endearing romance. Sasha Tron and Marcus Kim are best friends who grew up in the same neighborhood. Judy Kim, Marcus's mother helps Sasha, who is usually left to fend for herself by her busy parents. The two grow up to understand each other, enjoy each other's company and have the ability to make one another laugh in even the worst of situations. This includes the time when Marcus' mother Judy passes away in an accident. While trying to comfort him, Sasha acts on her crush and the two end up losing their virginity in the back of Marcus's Corolla. More times than not, when you mix sex with friends, things get super awkward super soon, and eventually, you end up hurting people you love. That is exactly what happens in Sasha and Marcus's life.
They grow up, Sasha becomes a celebrity chef in New York while Marcus continues to live with his father in San Francisco, play with his band at a dive bar that does nothing to increase his prospects. Now, what would happen if the two were to reunite? Sasha is engaged to Brandon Choi (Daniel Dae Kim), a Korean-American restaurant developer and Marcus is married, not in 'traditional hydro normative sense, but married spiritually and sexually' as Jenny (Vivian Bang) says. Add Keanu Reeves to the mix and it is just the best dose of laughter you can prescribe to! I haven't laughed as much as I did looking at Keanu play his role so candidly.
Reunions, even with old friends lost through misunderstandings, is special, but the shine stays on only initially. The misunderstanding has a way of cropping up again, and this time, it will only make things worse. The disagreement between Sasha and Marcus is of the same variety. In a telling scene between the two, we see that Marcus is offended because he was called normal by Sasha when reporters asked her about her latest boyfriend. He is offended that he was just a man in her arms who was used to hold her purse when she posed for the shutterbugs. He says so to Sasha, who in turn asks what is wrong with him being normal? It was after all a compliment about a man who is not caught up in bullshit. And this would have been perfectly fine had their places been switched and therein lies the beauty of 'Always Be My Maybe'.
It raises important questions about how gender norms influence modern relationships with subtlety. Even conversations that take place about cultural appropriation, when it comes to Asian cuisine, is part of a personal argument that makes it a point to observe the problems in the scene that we are watching while still keeping the rom-com theme intact. There is also a duality throughout the film that is fascinating.
For instance, it begins with the lives led by adult Sasha and Marcus and continues with a side-by-side portrayal of the lifestyles they prefer and the partners they expect to be with. Marcus's slam poetry vs Sasha's very classy film-wrap party. His girlfriend Jenny vs her fiance Brandon, the toe-curling sex that Sasha speaks of vs the comfort that she finds in Marcus's company. The two ends of the spectrum are portrayed equally.
'Always Be My Maybe' also depends on grand gestures in the climax that has come to be associated with the most popular romantic comedies, but it also subverts them at unexpected turns. For instance, when Marcus wants to impress Sasha, he ends up at Tom Ford to get a custom suit, he spits all the champagne out of his mouth after getting a look at the price. Just how much a grand gesture will cost you is something Ali Wong and Randall Park have beautifully penciled in to their film.