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Sasha Tran and Marcus Kim are neighbors and best friends. Sasha’s Vietnamese parents are always working, meaning she’s essentially a latchkey kid and Marcus’ Korean parents welcome her with open arms. Marcus and Sasha are clearly in love, clearly have no idea and when they finally sleep together, things get weird. And oddly parmesan-y. They don’t speak for 16 years until Sasha, now a celebrity chef, returns to the Bay Area and finds Marcus has been hired to help fit out her new home. Hilarity really DOES ensue.
Written by stars Ali Wong and Randall Park along with Michael Golamco, Nahnatchka Khan‘s movie is one of the smartest rom-coms you’ll see. Not just because it’s sweet and funny, which it is, but because of the changes you don’t notice at first. The fact that the extras aren’t exclusively white. The fact that the city geography is pretty accurate. The way that the soundtrack, including Marcus’ own magnificently shambolic band Hello Peril, all feed into the traditions of Oakland hiphop. This is a movie with the Bay Area in its DNA, and like spiritual fellow travelers Blindspotting and The Last Black Man in San Francisco, the Bay Area we see is far from the one most movies show us. Multiple nationalities, multiple languages, all piled on top of one another in a constellation of cities defined but not quite overwritten by the tech companies who flock there. The Bay Area is weird and brilliant, broken and serene. That’s just what you see here.
That foundation gives the movie the exact tools it needs to turn the rom-com model into what it should be rather than what it thinks it is. Building on the cheery subversion of Netflix compatriot Isn’t It Romantic but taking a far less meta route, its core romance is always spiky and always absolutely genuine. Marcus struggles with being a blue collar guy involved with a woman whose income is massively larger than his. He’s also convinced himself that his widowed dad needs a live in carer. Dad, played with a joyous lack of front by James Saito is much less convinced of this. Sasha’s side of things is no less difficult; constantly balancing her unresolved anger at her parents with the power she wields and the men who continually try and either ride that or take it away from her. Randall Park and Ali Wong are perfect casting choices here, Park’s amiable constant mild terror the exact counterpoint to Wong’s cheerful low level venom. You buy them as a couple the second you see them and the conversations all have that well rounded, corners knocked off feel that all great dialogue has.
Then this happens.
In the year of our lord Keanu19, we get the most astonishingly well tuned cameo in the man’s career, Reeves has SO much fun here, playing a version of himself ramped all the way up. It’s easy to forget that before he was John Wick, Johnny Utah and Officer Jack Traven, the man was Ted Theodore Logan. He’s FUNNY and better still funny in a way that is just shot through with the purest joy. He makes lines which aren’t punchlines hilarious (Do you have any dishes that play with the concept of TIME?’), is Marcus’ worst nightmare and yet he’s also still adorable. Best of all, he doesn’t outstay his welcome, just two perfect scenes and done. It’s one of the most carefully deployed casting masterstrokes I’ve ever seen and it’s part of a fiercely strong cast. Wong and Park are great and in a strong supporting cast Saito and Michelle Buteau (Also a memorable cameo in Isn’t It Romantic) as Sasha’s endlessly put upon and serene assistant are especially wonderful.
Always Be My Maybe is complex and honest in a way rom-coms almost never are. The resolution of Sasha’s relationship with her parents and Marcus’ struggles with past trauma are both handled with real delicacy and kindness, as well as a healthy streak of humor. This moves, and feels, like an evolution in the field rather than a return to the norm and that makes it even more essential. A genuine standout in Netflix’s rapidly expanding arsenal of comedies and an absolute must-see.
Always Be My Maybe is on netflix now.