While the romantic comedy has faded over the years (seriously, when was the last time you saw one in theaters?), Netflix has taken the reigns and breathed new life into the genre, with hits like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Set it Up. Directed by Nahnatchka Khan and co-written by Ali Wong, Randall Park, and Michael Golamco, Always Be My Maybe breaks boundaries and leans a lot into its comedic beats without ever feeling overbearing in its romcom formula.
Childhood best friends to lovers has always been a great trope. It gives the characters a shared history, while also allowing them to grow as individuals before they come together romantically. Always Be My Maybe covers that and more as Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park) navigate the change and, later, deal with lifestyle clashes. As a kid, Sasha’s parents were always working and she was often left alone, so she found solace at the home of her best friend Marcus. His parents welcomed her with open arms and made her feel at home. After tragedy strikes, Sasha and Marcus become estranged from each other for the next 16 years. Brutal, but it happens.
In that time, Sasha has made a name for herself as a celebrity chef while Marcus helps his dad with his business and is the lead singer of a popular local band. It isn’t much, but it pays the bills. When Sasha finds her way back to San Francisco to open a new restaurant, the pair reconnect. Marcus is still very afraid of change, while Sasha moves too quickly into the next best thing. As they rekindle their friendship and rediscover their feelings, they have to sort through the obstacles that kept them out of each other’s lives for so long and threatens to alienate them again.
One of the strongest elements of Always Be My Maybe is how unapologetically it carries itself. It has its own flair and personality and knows what it wants to be. Wong and Park’s writing frames both characters as worthy of love even when they have their own struggles to contend with. It ties in their pitfalls with their burgeoning romance and showcases how they make each other better people. The film also lets them stew in their shortcomings for a bit before they come to any of their realizations.
Ali Wong’s Sasha is confident in her skills, abilities and lifestyle. She’s ambitious and knows that she wants, and has, a great career, but she isn’t portrayed as someone who has no life outside of that like some other narratives are wont to do. She is heartbroken when her fiance, who is also her manager (played by Daniel Dae Kim), wants to end their relationship. It doesn’t take long to realize they’ve been walking the path towards a break-up for awhile, but that still doesn’t take the sting out of it. It’s in these moments that her vulnerabilities come to the forefront and, although she leans into her celebrity profile, she also wants a normal life outside of the limelight. She wants an equal, supportive partner because she’s already secure in the other aspects of her life.
Meanwhile, Randall Park’s Marcus says he’s ok working at his dad’s business and playing in his band, but he’s also unwilling to move on with his life after having been stuck in the same place for so long. While Sasha moves on too quickly to the next thing, Marcus moves too slowly in any given direction. He’s comfortable in a way that prevents growth and he reveals how insecure he is about his life when Sasha brings up what a “regular guy” he is. Meant to be a compliment, Marcus takes it as a personal affront to his lifestyle and that bleeds into the film’s central conflict. The film excels in its portrayal of two people who are different when it comes to their approaches to life and takes the time to flesh out how their individual experiences inform their decisions. They push each other’s buttons in the way only someone who knows you well can. The one downside is that there isn’t as much romantic interaction between the two leads as there could be, but when they do get their moments, it’s a reminder of how good they are together.
Park and Wong are wonderful together. They play off of each other naturally and their chemistry shines in all their funny (and serious) moments. Additionally, Always Be My Maybe feels authentic in its representation of the Asian American experience and its specificity (particularly having it set in San Francisco) elevates the film. Though it’s obviously and primarily a romcom, there are certain instances where the film touches on the dissonance between generations (at least between Sasha and her parents) and how distant she is from them, not just because she thought they were never around, but because they are reluctant to embrace her and her life despite her success. It’s also the first time an Asian American couple gets to lead a romcom and that’s a milestone in and of itself as Hollywood remains behind in its representation.
Despite the film’s funny moments (because there are a lot), the standout comedic performance is most definitely Keanu Reeves’ turn as “himself.” It’s always hilarious when actors play themselves because it’s always such an exaggeration. Part of the hilarity is that they wind up doing the most ridiculous things (like Neil Patrick Harris in Harold and Kumar) and Keanu’s turn is no different. His performance garners some of the best laugh out loud moments of the entire film and the seriousness he brings to his alter ego is part of what makes his actions so comically outrageous.
Always Be My Maybe might be one of Netflix’s strongest romcoms to date. It has the genre’s usual tropes, of course, but it definitely offers a new and different point of view. The comedic elements are actually funny, Wong and Park light up the screen when they’re together, and Reeves’ memorable role is the icing on top of an already good cake.
The comedic elements are actually funny, Wong and Park light up the screen when they're together, and Reeves' memorable role is the icing on top of an already good cake.