this reporter some movie fans learned that comedians Ali Wong and Randall Park were teaming up to write and star in a rom-com, the reaction was effectively “inject it directly into my veins.”
Their Netflix outing Always Be My Maybe, directed by Fresh Off the Boat‘s Nahnatchka Khan, doesn’t defy genre conventions, but it feels like a triumph nonetheless. The film thrives in embracing its own weirdness and showcasing its writer-stars, which is all we wanted out of it anyway.
Always Be My Maybe is the story of Sasha (Wong) and Marcus (Park), two childhood best friends who reunite over a decade after an awkward sexual encounter. The film forgoes unpacking this in the interest of time; it’s right after the sudden death of Marcus’s mom, who was more of a mother to Sasha than she ever felt her own was. It dissolves a decade of friendship in mere minutes and ends with Sasha storming out, the sting of a rejected crush erasing any instinct to be there for a grieving friend or keep in touch at all moving forward.
Years later, Sasha is a successful celebrity chef based in New York, while Marcus has stayed on in San Francisco to live and work with his father. Park and James Saito have a delightful father-son dynamic, immediately subverting every expectation about Asian immigrant parents and their children from their first scene of smoking and dancing together. The film doesn’t pass judgment on Marcus’s life choices, but he’s objectively stagnant compared to Sasha. Even his band – together since their teens – is at a standstill, and in an almost cringeworthy rom-com trope, he’s dating someone overtly annoying and set up as Sasha’s inferior.
As Sasha, Wong presents as a bonafide movie star, and we can hope the attention on this film and her searing standup means we’ll see her as many more characters in the future.
Like so many other Netflix films, including Ibiza, Someone Great, and Set It Up, Always Be My Maybe derives its watchability from its writing. Though the film rarely surprises with plot points, it’s constantly serving up meticulous humor that will have you laughing out loud uncontrollably. Wong and Park’s comedy chops are on delightfully ostentatious display, every joke and delivery honed for maximum comedic efficacy. There are three celebrity references in the film, each so hyper-specific yet seemingly random that one can only imagine the fun they had trying every permutation before finding the best option.
Speaking of celebrities, the film’s (and trailer’s) standout guest appearance is undoubtedly Keanu Reeves. In the hands of Khan, who brought us James Van Der Beek as James Van Der Beek on Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23, “Keanu Reeves” is a maniacal delight as Sasha’s West Coast fling, an illustration of the disconnect between her life and Marcus’s but also such an outlandish juxtaposition that you don’t feel bad for him so much as you throw your head back in laughter and enjoy the ride.
The film is otherwise populated by powerhouse players even in the periphery. Michelle Buteau is criminally charming as Sasha’s childhood friend and adulthood colleague, and Deadpool‘s Karan Soni plays beautifully off Park as Marcus’s stifled bandmate. ’90s nostalgia pervades, not so much in direct references but in its influence on the characters’ formative years, which just so happen to be when they fell in love.
It might be nice to unpack Always Be My Maybe independent of its groundbreaking use of two Asian-American leads and mostly characters of color, but we’re still at a point in Hollywood where this merits discussion and praise. We’re still at a point where this critic experiences full-body chills whenever two non-white leads share a love scene, and Park lifting Wong onto his hips in the throes of a makeout is an all-timer.
Always Be My Maybe never quite gets you rooting for Marcus and Sasha, who may just have a long history rather than being truly right for each other. But you’ll unequivocally root for Wong, Park, Khan, and the rest of their team and for a film that breathes entertainment in every scene. Like the title says, it might not be the one, but it’ll always be there for you.
Always Be My Maybe is now streaming on Netflix.