An Asian American Comedy Couple Reviews ‘Always Be My Maybe’

My fiancé and I, both comedians, found a centeredness and groundedness to Ali Wong and Randall Park’s romantic comedy we’ve never before seen in Asian America.

10 months ago

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Always Be My Maybe is the story of Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park), next door neighbors who grew up together, hooked up, then split up for 15 years. When they reconnect, Sasha has become a celebrity chef while Randall lives at home working at his dad’s HVAC company by day, playing in his band “Hello Peril” at night. Their friends and family help them rekindle their friendship, which grows into much more.

Below, I review the movie with my fiancé, Jiayong Li (Twitter: @jlicomedy). We’re both comedians, so a romantic comedy written by and starring two Asian American comedians feels like it was made for us. Because it’s an Asian American story, Always Be My Maybe is contextually richer than even the best romcoms that have come before, like When Harry Met Sally or Boomerang. There’s deep cultural relatability we’ve never before seen in American art, and more than a few refreshing social critiques.

Editor’s note: spoilers ahead.


Diana’s takeaway

Diana: I loved this movie so much. I felt so seen, probably more than I ever have before. Like how Sasha, Ali Wong’s character is, that’s how I was when I was a kid, and how I am now. That joke where she closes the door on Randall Park’s character, Marcus, that’s literally stuff I would do, and nobody thought it was funny but I would still do it. I had a friend whom I’d keep hanging up on randomly and then calling her again like “gotcha!” Ahahahahahaha!

Jiayong: I guess the door joke, when you’re there, it’s probably something that’s not funny when you’re in it.

Diana: Right. I had no empathy back then.

Jiayong: Hahahaha

Diana: And the clothes she was wearing? The turtleneck, the stretchy pants, were just like the second-hand shit my parents could afford. The jean jacket would have been a luxury in 1996. The cool kids wore jeans and I was the one loser that didn’t, so I really feel where Sasha is coming from, economically.

Image of young Marcus and Sasha from "Always Be My Maybe"

Diana: My parents were like hers too, they were always working, and I’d stay at home by myself. I don’t have resentment about my parents, but I could see how someone would. I’m actually super jealous of Sasha, because I always wanted a best friend and a surrogate family.

Jiayong: Because you understood their limitations?

Diana: Yeah, it’s weird, I always thought, well this is how my family is, and I never wished for them to be different. I understood they had to do what they had to do and it was hard for them, but I still wanted the happy-family scenario.

Jiayong: That’s a fantasy of having another family. You know what that’s called? Parent cheating. That’s not ethical.

Diana: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA

“This is now my Gold Standard for Asian American representation.”

Diana: But yeah, because of that protective instinct, I also totally relate to Randall’s character too. After his mom died his whole life was about protecting his dad. And that’s how I was too. Like I won’t bother my parents with my problems, and I’d achieve academically so they’d feel like their sacrifices were worth it.

Jiayong: Right. Those were formative years.

Diana: And adult Sasha’s general demeanor is so how I am. Like that one scene where she’s at Marcus’s concert and she yells, “THAT’S MY BOYFRIEND. YOU WANNA TAP THAT? YOU CAN’T HE’S MINE.” That’s just like me. “NO ONE ELSE CAN HAVE YOU.”

Jiayong: Them making out in the uber pool…that’s totally something you would do.

Diana: My two sex goals are boning in public and getting into your butt.

Jiayong: I think you should set more realistic goals.

Diana: Nope, I’m shooting for the moon.

Jiayong: …

Diana: Also, it was HAWT. The scene where Marcus and Sasha finally get together? They have real chemistry, he just lifts her up and takes her upstairs, pheeeeeeeew. That was the sexiest Asian sex scene I’ve ever seen.


Jiayong’s takeaway

Diana: But you grew up in China, like you didn’t move to the west until you were 18. How did you feel about the movie?

Jiayong: They didn’t really go into the unique ways an Asian man has to cope with being invisible in the west. So I don’t think it explored my experiences that much. It’s mostly the relationship between Marcus and his family, and with Sasha. In a way, it doesn’t feel that different from growing up in China, with some girl that you find a connection with later in life. It didn’t feel that different from a Chinese romantic movie, which is what’s insane about it.

“I never felt like ‘that could be me,’ but in this movie I do.”

Jiayong: Most movies here, there’s nothing familiar with my experience in China. Most romcoms make me feel alienated. It’s always some white guy pulling a crazy trick to win a girl’s heart, but when I think about my lived experience, I’m like “I can’t pull that off,” that’s some white guy shit.

Diana: What do you mean by “white guy shit”?

Jiayong: Like taking a risk, doing something crazy, and the girl actually being into it. A lot of the times it’s rooted in “well maybe it would have worked out anyway because you’re a white guy.” Sometimes it feels like no matter what you do you’re going to be viewed in a certain way, because you’re an Asian guy. So the white guy’s plan to get the girl, to me it’s like performing rituals to pray for rain. It’ll rain anyway, or it won’t. Your actions don’t make a difference. That’s the feeling I get when watching a traditional romcom. I never felt like “that could be me,” but in this movie I do. It feels much more familiar and relatable. Like even Crazy Rich Asians, I didn’t feel like that was relatable.


Image of teenaged Marcus and Sasha from "Always Be My Maybe"

Diana: I didn’t think Crazy Rich Asians was relatable at all. Whose lived experience is that?

Jiayong: It’s all fantasy.

Diana: CRA was one big humblebrag. And it had this anxious hyperawareness of itself as presenting Asian Americans to white people for the first time, and they were overdoing this angle of “oh but we’re seen as foreigners in Asia too, look how American we are.” Honestly, I think Always Be My Maybe should have been THE Asian American movie. It actually felt like a story for us. I mostly saw CRA to support, but ABMM I was excited for and it did not disappoint. I would have paid full price theater admission to see this. Up to three times.

Jiayong: Hahahaha. Well, we’re already Ali Wong fans and we know what she’s about, what she’s been up to, her stance on a lot of Asian American issues. Her work has some guarantee of quality, and ABMM was definitely consistent with her viewpoints.

Diana: It’s sad, you don’t even realize how bad everything else is until you have something great to compare it to. ABMM is the positive control, for me. This is now my Gold Standard for Asian American representation.


Representation

Diana: It was cool to see the intergenerational dynamics. A lot of times in white romcoms, it’s just about the couple, but in ABMM, the families are well developed too. You see Sasha’s parents grow and change. I really liked the way their relationships were handled. You know how “Asian creatives” will have this preciousness narrative like “I’m so special, I’m taking a non-traditional path.”

Jiayong: and they just hate their parents, they see them as pure oppression. That’s such a white person thing to do. That’s such a trope now.

Diana: I love how happy both sets of parents are. Even Sasha’s parents. She describes them as distant, but whenever they’re on screen they’re smiling and happy, and Marcus’s dad is so cute, dancing with his son. That’s rare to see, elderly Asian people being happy.

Jiayong: This is something you don’t see a lot here, but in Beijing, old people just gather in public parks, of which there are many, and they get together and sing and dance, play group sports, and they have a great time.

Diana: My grandma said she’d never move here, it’s too lonely. But yeah, ABMM felt more culturally Asian. There were these fundamental things that felt very real and homey about the whole movie.

Jiayong: Like when Sasha’s parents just dropped in on her in NY, that’s totally something my parents would do. When they were visiting me in college in Toronto, they would sometimes just come unannounced to my department.

Image of Sasha's parents in "Always Be My Maybe"

Diana: Wow. And Koreans cutting everything with scissors.

Jiayong: Those are definitely the kind of subtle details that show understanding of cultural specificity that you can’t imitate. White people try to write Asian characters, but they just lack the authenticity to write these characters.

Diana: Right, it ends up being a white narrative with a lucky cat statue. Because it’s not just about the décor. They only know the very shallow culture trappings, but how we think of family, solve problems and relate to each other, those are the deep values that are hard for outsiders to understand, much less replicate, because they are so intangible. But I felt those intangible qualities being more like me in this film, and that was really special.

“It was as refreshing as a romcom can get because so many tropes were subverted.”

Jiayong: Marcus’s dad, man…what a player.

Diana: I know! I cheered when he got with Kathy, the Diana Ross impersonator (Karen Holness)!

Jiayong: That was cool to see. Asians are always accused of being anti-black, which is not to say it doesn’t exist, but I don’t think it exists more than in other communities. It’s always used as something to put down Asian communities.

Diana: It’s always young Asians saying “my parents don’t want me to date a black person,” but they turned that stereotype on its head.

Jiayong: Not that dating someone of a race means you’re not racist toward that group, but you don’t see that pairing a lot in films, or in real life.

Diana: And even in that bit role, they wrote her as a real person like “don’t be an asshole in front of Kathy, ok?” Even in the parts bordering on tropes, they didn’t go there. At the beginning, I was worried Sasha was going to have a sassy black friend, but Veronica (Michelle Buteau) gets her own story arc. It was as refreshing as a romcom can get because so many tropes were subverted.

Jiayong: The gender dynamics are interesting too. A lot of romcoms are really male focused and the women are just some sort of goal to achieve. But in this case, both characters grow. Sasha started out distant and invested in fancy things, with fancy restaurants that cater to white people, and she changed her views.

Diana: That’s a good point. Even though women are the target demographic for romcoms, they’re still sexist as fuck. Maybe because they’re directed at women, they’re sexist as fuck. Well, Sasha and Veronica low-key slip in a lot of quips about feminism and motherhood. It was all… *chef fingers-kiss*


Class

Jiayong: Class is a big part of this too. ABMM is very conscious about it. Like that scene where Marcus shows up at the fine dining restaurant and the maitre’d is like “oh there’s a very middle class man here to see you” with a sneer. Even Ali Wong said “you look like a homeless astronaut.”

Image of Marcus and Sasha at awards show from "Always Be My Maybe"

Jiayong: The movie skewers the fine dining experience, which I find really funny. I always thought that concept is ridiculous. To have a big pretentious show for a tiny bit of food.

Diana: 15 courses! $16,000 a person! It’s not bad food, it’s just not more delicious than a soup I could have made at home. They also skewer the “radical progressives” with the Vivian Bang character, Marcus’ girlfriend Jenny.

Jiayong: she’s into slam poetry. She wears dreadlocks.

Diana: She pretends she’s so woke, but she’s just appropriating black culture and dicking around. Plus, it turns out she’s a total starfucker. Once Keanu becomes available, she just swoops right in for those sloppy seconds.

Jiayong: Hahahahahahaha.

Diana: A lot of activists claim this sanctified image, but are taking money from rich white people and pushing their agendas. It was very politically incisive in a low-key way. Like bitch, you’re not righteous, you’re just another kind of douche, and you and the rich bitches co-opting legitimate causes deserve each other.

Jiayong: Right, even when she’s trying to get with Keanu Reeves, she was coming up with spiritual reasons for it. People can justify anything with whatever guise that they’re under.

“I wish [Keanu Reeves] was played by John Cho though. John Cho playing Keanu Reeves.”

Diana: But it’s not like Ali Wong’s character is leaving that life behind. I guess symbolically she is, because her new restaurant is more low-key. But she’s still a celebrity chef. And what’s a little unsettling is she’s basically commoditizing Marcus’ family recipes for her own profit. Isn’t she now the rich celebrity commoditizing “Authentic Asianness”?

Jiayong: It depends how it’s priced. The décor was very down to earth, and I feel like that was the point of the last scene. I’m assuming she’s making a more affordable menu. So if it’s more accessible then I’m ok with it. If it’s like home cooking but at the price range of fine dining, that’d be pretty messed up.

Diana: It was a very heartwarming scene. We both started crying.

Jiayong: That’s what Ali Wong’s real life is like. I think they had to do that because they wrote Sasha to be Ali Wong. And Marcus despises Sasha’s lifestyle.

Diana: They still both end up marrying rich. At the end of the day are they necessarily better than the Keanu starfucker who blatantly wanted it?

Jiayong: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know. I guess their relationship isn’t based on that. And wealth wasn’t emphasized in AMBB. It was implied, but it wasn’t where they were going. The emphasis can matter a lot.

Diana: True. The structure of romcoms is so rigid, you have to make one character do a sweeping sacrifice to be with the other. So the plot doesn’t necessarily reflect anything except “well this is a romcom, what can ya do?”

Image of Marcus and his dad from "Always Be My Maybe"

Jiayong: And Marcus’s dad was so cool. He runs a business with his son and they’re both happy. There’s a trope of the Asian character running a restaurant so the next generation doesn’t have to. And Marcus is naturally interested in music, but he never complains about his day job. It’s not like he thinks his day to day life is a grind or anything.

Diana: That is a very striver complaint, “I hate everything, nothing is good enough”. Sasha was more like that. She “painted her childhood with a shitbrush” and Marcus calls her out on that.

What’s hot about Marcus is he will even call out Keanu Reeves as a douchebag. His whole thing is being comfortable with who you are and where you are. It doesn’t matter how white or rich or famous someone else is, if they’re treating you like shit, stand the fuck up for yourself. That’s hot, and that’s what Asian America needs more of.

Jiayong: You have to respect yourself to not let that shit slide.

“This is what has been missing in the Asian American consciousness.”

Jiayong: I liked Keanu Reeves. I wish he was played by John Cho though. John Cho playing Keanu Reeves. I wonder how much of it was based on his real personality. I hope he talks like Neo in real life. Just these cryptic sayings. Bruce Lee would do that. Something about wind or water, or stream. Like water…

Both: …breaks …rock. HAHAHAHAHA.

Gif of Keanu Reeves in "Always Be My Maybe"

Diana: Keanu seemed like he was just chilling. His serious movies make him look as chiseled and badass as possible. But here he’s just lying next to the couch.

Jiayong: Manspreading.

Diana: With his schlub hanging out. It was refreshing to see him like that.


Conclusion

Jiayong: It’s nice to see him just act like a human being. That was true of all the characters. They all felt real and genuine. Everything about the movie just felt very natural.

Diana: What was your favorite part?

Jiayong: I liked the last scene where the name of Sasha’s new restaurant is revealed. It’s so moving. What’s yours?

Diana: In the dim sum place, where the waitress gives Marcus the extra siu mai and then moves it toward him when Sasha tries to take a bite. That was so funny. Also it shows Chinese restaurant workers being happy, friendly people.

Jiayong: Right. People always complain about how the customer service mistreats them. It’s such a shitty comedy trope.

Image of Sasha and Marcus from "Always Be My Maybe"

Diana: Overall, there was a centeredness, a groundedness to this movie that I’ve never seen from Asian America before.

Jiayong: It’s aware of the tropes but not bending to the white gaze. It’s very refreshing.

Diana: It’s so special. This is what has been missing in the Asian American consciousness, you know? Randall Park and Ali Wong were both Asian American studies majors in college, and it fucking shows.


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Diana Lu

Published 10 months ago