This review contains spoilers for the new Netflix original “Always Be My Maybe.”
When I, a FIlipino-American romantic comedy aficionado, heard about “Always Be My Maybe,” I was ecstatic. A romantic comedy written by Filipino-American Michael Golamco and starring Asian-American actors Ali Wong and Randall Park? Sign me up!
I was so excited to see Asian-Americans portrayed in a way that is not rooted in stereotypes. While “Always Be My Maybe” definitely portrays funny, complex, and flawed characters that leave stereotypes behind, I was left disappointed by the lessons taught about love and healthy relationships. The film focuses on celebrity chef Sasha Tran (Wong) and homebody, stoner and rock-and-roller Marcus Kim (Park). For the first two acts, the film highlights their sweet childhood friendship, the seeming end of said childhood friendship, and their reunion 16 years laters. Sasha has come back home to San Francisco to open her second restaurant. Marcus arrives at her door to install her air conditioning unit. From there, they get off to a rocky start and rekindle their friendship. The film takes a good and surprising turn with an entire segment featuring the actor Keanu Reeves playing an exaggerated, arrogant version of himself. Keanu and Sasha begin dating and double date with Marcus and his girlfriend at an upscale restaurant. The setting pokes fun at gentrification and fine dining, but is only a backdrop for one of the movie’s turning points: Marcus realizes Sasha is the one. This is where the film lost me. I didn’t believe the romance or love between Sasha and Marcus that was supposedly established in the first two acts. At least to me, the first two acts were building towards an ending where Sasha and Marcus realized they wanted different things out of life. For the most part, Sasha and Marcus had been harshly critiquing each other for their life choices. Marcus thinks Sasha needs to take a step back from her celebrity lifestyle and accept her parent’s attempts at rekindling their relationship. Sasha thinks Marcus should move out of his Dad’s house and rediscover how he can best use his talents and engage in society.
While they have sweet and friendly moments, their relationship in the first two acts is largely about reminiscing of what once was and judging each other’s present. Sasha and Marcus getting together in the end felt undeserved, especially because the circumstances of them getting together occurred in an unhealthy way with no compromise. During their undeserved romance, Sasha and Marcus hit a speed bump with Sasha casually announcing that she has decided to move to New York City for good. If they wanted to continue to be together, Sasha tells Marcus he should join her. Sasha made Marcus privy to her decision only after she had made it, trapping Marcus in an unexpected corner in which he must decide between his homebody lifestyle or uprooting it all for Sasha. In putting Marcus in this position, Sasha not only leaves Marcus out of the thought process of a life-changing decision, but also gives him an ultimatum. Such actions, I would argue, are unhealthy and not things an audience should root for. Unfortunately, the film makes the audience want to root for Sasha. How dare Marcus not want to change his life for a woman he started dating a few weeks ago!
The first two acts of the film established both Sasha and Marcus as flawed characters, but only Marcus is forced to change. I love a strong, independent woman just as much as the next feminist, but I don’t see a relationship that uses ultimatums and lacks clear communication on major life choices as a healthy one. I did not come into this film knowing if I wanted Sasha and Marcus to get together or not. I came into this film wanting to explore the difficulties, beauty, and nuance of love. Because Sasha and Marcus’s relationship was both underdeveloped and unhealthy, I remain disappointed. “Always Be My Maybe” is not bad. Many say it is good if not great. That being said, I argue that “Always Be My Maybe” is an example of the current state of Asian-American media. It is young. Asian-American artists have not had the decades upon decades of time to develop and craft their skills our white American counterparts have had. Asian-American stories are young and developing, so it would be unrealistic to expect a great movie right off the bat. I appreciate this movie for what it means for Asian-Americans in the film industry. I appreciate this movie for the joy and hope it gives to Asian-Americans and audiences around the world. I appreciate feeling seen on screen. Next time, I just want it to be done better.
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