Once a safe bet for date nights, girls’ nights out, and sleepovers, romantic comedies have become an unreliable genre. So often, modern film romance is replaced with raunchy sexuality and many comedic movies demand a level of shock that is far from the subtle wit of their predecessors.
Most modern-day romantic comedies have shed nearly all of their glamour and sentiment in exchange for box office appeal that depends on nudity and gross-out humor, far from the Carole Lombard-helmed screwball comedies of the 1930s or the sophisticated romances of Audrey Hepburn in the 1960s. Today, most rom-coms are terrible movies, and that’s too bad.
Occasionally, however, a little film comes along and sparks hope that this once-enchanting genre could be on the upswing again. “Always Be My Maybe,” a Netflix original film, offers us this little sparkle of hope. Written by and starring comedians Ali Wong and Randall Park, “Always Be My Maybe” is at once charming and funny, leaving nearly all of the raunch and shock on the cutting room floor.
The movie tells the tale of celebrity chef Sasha Tran falling back in love with her first crush and former best friend, Marcus Kim. Fans of Wong’s comedy will instantly recognize the imprint of her observational style in the way the characters interact with one another. There’s a candid nature to Wong, and therefore to Sasha, that seems to make comedy easy. Sasha, like Wong’s comedy persona, is simultaneously overly confident and brutally unassured.
Park, known best for his TV roles on “Fresh off the Boat” and “Veep,” has a spectacularly likable quality. Even in his role on “Veep,” where he played an arrogant albeit aloof antagonist as Governor Chung, it’s impossible not to root for him. As Marcus Kim in “Always Be My Maybe,” Park creates a guy who manages to play the straight, reasonable character while playing in a rap and rock band called “Hello Peril” and having weed-smoking dance parties with his elderly father.
Longtime real-life friends, Wong and Park developed the story of Sasha and Marcus based on several instances of their own lives. There is an authenticity to their characters’ longtime friendship and camaraderie but also to their occasional awkwardness. The film is not a belly-buster from start to finish, but there are plenty of laughs and one pretty epic cameo by Keanu Reeves playing an explosive version of himself you can only hope is at least partially true.
The relationship of Sasha and Marcus is relatable, fun, and highly enjoyable. The characters come together in a cringe-free, satisfying way, and they make the viewer want it for them. The movie is also unexpectedly touching, drawing from the characters’ complicated and sometimes tragic pasts.
The jokes do at times seem afraid to offend an ever-alert wokeness patrol. For instance, a supporting character friend of Sasha’s is having a “gender fluid” baby, about which Sasha almost makes a joke, but the laugh seems to shrivel awkwardly out of the scene before it hurts anyone’s feelings. Sadly, this is not a unique affliction in the world of modern comedy.
Making a great romantic comedy is no easy task. True classics like “Bringing up Baby,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Notting Hill,” and “When Harry Met Sally” are nuanced movies with great cast chemistry, fantastic scripts, and solid comedic timing. The elements have to come together perfectly, or the entire film falls apart.
“Always Be My Maybe” is a rare success in this genre. It is far from perfect and not likely to go down in history with these aforementioned greats, but it is certainly worth a couple of hours on Netflix and reminds us that good romantic comedy is still possible. Wong and Park have proven that they are a formidable writing duo with chemistry to boot. The door is wide open for more charming romantic comedy from both.