When Netflix announced they greenlit an untitled film starring Ali Wong and “Fresh Off the Boat” actor Randall Park in 2017, the internet could not hold itself back from raising their expectations for the movie as each year passed by. Since then, other Asian American rom-coms like “Set It Up” and “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” have been released on the platform, but the film has easily set itself apart from those and other movies in the genre and has truly met the audience’s expectations.
“Always Be My Maybe,” written by Wong, Park and “Grimm” writer Michael Golamco, tells the typical story of a boy meeting a girl and re-meeting her as an adult after she moves away. Sasha Tran (Wong) and Marcus Kim (Park) were next-door neighbors and childhood best friends. After a steamy exchange leads to an awkward, heated argument as teens, Sasha storms off before the two eventually grow apart.
Years later, celebrity chef Sasha is successful at everything but love, temporarily moving back home to open a restaurant just as her good-looking but extremely inattentive fiance Brandon Choi (Daniel Dae Kim) decides they should both see other people. Her friend Veronica (Michelle Buteau), whose one-line quips about being the curvier one between her and Sasha failed to define her as a character, sets her up with a house to live in the meantime, but she ultimately sets Sasha up for something else as she reunites with Marcus.
Marcus seems to be stuck in the past, as he has no real drive in life outside of playing local gigs with his band and spending time with his free-spirited, dread-donning girlfriend Jenny (Vivian Bang). Jenny’s character is satirically subtle but very culturally distinct point of Asians and Asian Americans appropriating black culture. Keanu Reeves’ cameo as a theatrical jerkwad who ends up as Sasha’s bounceback from Brandon has single-handedly been the most talked about thing online, and ultimately forces Marcus and Sasha back into something skirting into something romantic which leads to the question of “can we maybe do this?”
“Always Be My Maybe,” which marks the directorial debut of “Fresh Off the Boat” creator Nahnatchka Khan, is undeniably and proudly Asian in every aspect it can be. Wong, Park and Golamco have taken the classic Asian drama trope of the rich-person-falling-for-poor-person romance and turned it into an agile revolution that could effortlessly change Hollywood, shattering stereotypes of what it means to be Asian American all while embracing the little details that paint a realistic picture of a collective identity.
Unlike the two other Asian American rom-coms on Netflix, the film never seemed like it intended to reach a particular age demographic. Love and loss is relatable at any stage of life, and Wong in particular gave such an incredible performance that the those kinds of emotions hit home despite Sasha’s lavish lifestyle.
This is also why the film was successful with depicting the very much adult feelings of fear and failure, taking itself seriously enough despite being humorous and lighthearted at times to draw raw, heartfelt emotions from viewers. The soundtrack itself veers away from typical rom-com territory, with songs like “93 ‘Til Infinity” from Souls of Mischief and the heartbreaking “Illuminate” by Plato III and Remi Lėkun.
The film proves that, without question, Asian American stories are just as interesting as anyone else’s, and Netflix has indisputably changed the game for future Asian American rom-coms. The movie has not only set high expectations for rom-coms but has laid out the groundwork for them to follow.
“Always Be My Maybe” is available to stream on Netflix.
Featured photo courtesy of Netflix.