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Always Be My Maybe review - the Asian-American love story that breathes new life into a saturated genre

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We all love When Harry Met Sally, and yes, Set It Up is a 2019 Netflix banger, but you know what's boring about both of them? How unrepresentative they are of real life.

Lead characters are predominantly white, middle class and rich enough to afford plane tickets at a moment's notice. (Seriously, who has that money?) Then there are the secondary characters: the "sassy" black friend, the "Uh-Hmm Gyurl" gay bestie and the stereotypical nerdy Asian colleague.

Then comes along Always Be My Maybe.

Co-written and produced by its two leading protagonists - Ali Wong and Randall Park - Always Be My Maybe follows the story of childhood best friends Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park) who grow up next door to each other in San Francisco. It's a common backstory: one child's parents are more absent than the other, meaning they spend every waking moment with the best friend's parents. In this case, Sasha's parents own a shop, meaning she spends most evenings with Marcus' mum learning to cook. When Marcus' mum passes away in an accident and Sasha and Marcus lose their virginities to each other, suddenly a wedge comes between them.

We skip forward to years later when Sasha is a celebrity chef living in LA and Marcus is living with his father, dancing around in his pants and smoking fat spliffs with his high school band. It's comforting to see the woman out on top, albeit stuck with a terrible fiancé (Brandon Choi, played by Daniel Dae Kim) and focussing on her work, with her best friend Veronica (Michelle Buteau) by her side. In a film where representation doesn't just matter, but is the essence and soul of the story, Veronica is a brilliant, witty woman, expecting her first child with her girlfriend.

Their friendship is quick like Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, supportive like Tuca and Bertie, and sidesteps just about every bad best friend cliché in the book. Veronica is heavily pregnant throughout most of the film - perhaps in a small shout to Ali Wong's standup shows that centred around pregnancy and birth - and acts as a consistently (but not overwhelming) reminder that although Sasha's love life is a tumultuous mess, it isn't the sole focus of the story.

As Sasha splits from Brandon and moves back to the Bay Area, she meets Marcus' Asian American, dreadlocked woke-as-fuck girlfriend Jenny (played by Vivian Bang) who needs no explanation. In a standard (but rarely boring) romcom storyline, we're faced with what could be (and turns out to be) a disastrous double date - and this is the point in the film that things become meme-able. Keanu Reeves (playing Keanu Reeves) enters an ultra-hip restaurant where Marcus, Sasha and Jenny are waiting for him. He's an Adonis, an unproblematic hottie with a beard to drop your pants for, strolling in slow-mo across from the bar. 

Keanu plays the ultimate piss-take of himself so well; it's comical, irritating, cringe-worthy and unapologetically hilarious. Keanu adds that extra bit of com to director Nahnatchka Khan's almost-perfect rom-com. 

Delving back into the rom, we're delving into vital issues of the fear of the unknown, men saying they want a "strong woman" but really only wanting a cheerleader who stands on the sidelines and looks pretty, and the complexities of traditional power dynamics in a relationship. It's a good fight - one that needs to be aired. But of course, it wouldn't be a romcom without the grand burst of love to lift our cold, dead hearts. The end harks back to the leads' traditional Asian culinary roots.

Always Be My Maybe is a breath of fresh air for the romcom genre. Director Khan and co-producers Wong and Randall don't just reinvigorate the genre as a whole, but complement its existing storylines with quirky details of modern Asian-American life rarely seen on screen before. It's playful, satirical, uplifting and a joy from start to finish.

Always Be My Maybe is on Netflix now.

Lead image credit: Netflix




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