The second Always Be My Maybe was over, I immediately wanted to rush online and tell everyone to make time to watch it when it’s released (you can see it on Netflix right now). Nahnatchka Khan’s romantic comedy is arguably the best in the genre in recent memory, which is saying something when you see how Netflix has been crushing it lately with movies like Set It Up and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. But Always Be My Maybe plays like a movie that’s easily going to stand alongside giants of the genre like When Harry Met Sally… and Notting Hill thanks to its excellent performances and sharp screenwriting. The script from Michael Golamco and co-writers/lead actors Ali Wong and Randall Park makes every character feel like a real person (except for one, and that’s done purposefully) with a rich interior life. The chemistry between Wong and Park is outstanding, and the film balances comedy with real dramatic stakes to where you feel like you’re fully invested in this relationship. It all adds up to a rom-com I can’t wait to revisit.
Sasha and Marcus were childhood friends growing up next to each other in San Francisco. Sasha’s parents were too busy to spend time at home, so Sasha found family with Marcus and his parents. The two were inseparable growing up, but when Marcus’ mother suddenly passes away when they’re about to graduate high school, Sasha and Marcus, in their grief and teenage feelings, end up sleeping together, which immediately ruins their friendship and causes them to have a falling out. Sixteen years later, Sasha (Wong) is a successful celebrity chef who’s about to marry a rich entrepreneur (Daniel Dae Kim) and open a restaurant back in San Francisco. Marcus (Park), meanwhile, has stagnated, staying at home to care for his dad and playing in a band. When Sasha and Marcus come back into each other’s orbit, they discover there are still feelings between them, but they now have to contend with their personal baggage.
Khan, as she has shown on her sitcoms Don’t Trust the B- in Apartment 23 and Fresh Off the Boat, has an incredibly sharp eye for character and conveying relationships quickly and efficiently. When we see Sasha’s home, both as a child and as an adult, everything is cold and isolated, but Marcus’ world is warm and inviting if a bit messy. It’s clear that Khan has a lot of affection for both characters, but not so much as to treat them as saintly. Sasha can be a bit aloof while Marcus is clearly in a state of arrested development since the death of his mother. But every character gets some level of attention, even Marcus’ mother Judy, who’s pretty much only seen in montage and yet is more fully formed than leading characters in weaker movies. Even though the romantic comedy is usually treated as superfluous and lightweight, Always Be My Maybe makes the investment in treating its characters like real people rather than archetypes.
However, this emphasis on real characters never comes at the expense of the comedy, and the film is a constant delight thanks to the expert comic timing of Wong and Park. While both actors are no stranger to supporting roles, they’ve also shown they’re stars when given the spotlight as Wong has done with her standup and Park has done on Fresh Off the Boat. Both actors are absolutely winning, and Hollywood would be wise to take note of what they accomplish here, not just in terms of their chemistry with each other, but how they’re able to skillfully balance the comic and dramatic sides of their individual characters.
And Always Be My Maybe has some serious drama! It’s not just pure, inoffensive fluff that we expect from rom-coms. Like When Harry Met Sally…, when these characters conflict, you feel it because you don’t want them to fight. You want nothing but good things for them and to live happily ever after, but because the relationship is grounded in reality and the characters feel real, the conflict comes alive and you realize just how much you’re invested in this romance. That romance gains even greater specificity because of the cultural background of Marcus and Sasha, and while this story could conceivably work if the characters weren’t of Asian origin, that background makes both characters feel more real rather than just pretty white people who came out of the pretty white people factory.
Like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Always Be My Maybe feels like the future of the rom-com genre. We were all raised on rom-coms where the leads were always white, but now people who aren’t Caucasian want to play in the genre and do it even better. Always Be My Maybe is that evolution, both in terms of the specificity of its storytelling and the unique charm of its lead actors. And as for the one character that purposefully feels like a caricature? That character is played by Keanu Reeves, who was glimpsed in the trailer. I’ve been asked not to reveal any details about his character, so I’ll just say that he almost steals the show. The fact that he doesn’t speaks to how damn good this movie is.
Always Be My Maybe is now available to stream on Netflix.