3.5 stars (out of 4)
At first glance, Always Be My Maybe seems like every other bouncy next-gen Netflix rom-com in your “Because you watched Set It Up” queue. You know, a congenial couple get past their differences and fall in love. Banter, banter, happily-ever-after. In some ways, it is that movie. It’s also one of the smartest, sweetest and flat-out funniest movies you’ll see all year. No doubt about it.
Meet Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park). They grew up next door to each other in San Francisco. Sasha was a latchkey kid so she often headed over to Marcus’ house after school, where his mom prepared authentic Asian cuisine. On the verge of college, the pair finally got it on in the cramped back seat of his car. It didn’t go well, and a post-hook up argument sealed the estrangement. Sasha turned out to be a mega-successful, if slightly self-absorbed, chef and Marcus works in heating and cooling with his dad and still hangs in his childhood bedroom. After she uproots from L.A. back to San Fran to open a new restaurant, guess who literally shows up on her doorstep to install her air-conditioning.
Will they physically and emotionally reconnect? Put it this way: Is San Francisco located in California? What makes Always Be My Maybe a savvy and superior entry in the genre is that Sasha and Marcus take the time to circle each other in the ring and punch high like prized heavyweights. The fun starts from the get-go when Marcus mocks Sasha for talking on the phone to a client with a put-upon vocal inflection. And while Sasha does catch him and his rock band play at a local bar, she can’t help but rib him about the fact that he’s in his 30s and still in a band and playing at a local bar.
It’s easy to construe the barbs as standard flirting, but it’s clear that these no-nonsense former besties are also just apprehensive about each other’s newfound life choices and not shy about voicing their opinions. Even after they do end up in bed together, the problems don’t magically disappear. Just rack your brain and think about the last time characters in a rom-com realistically addressed issues of money and privilege without delivering clear-cut answers. Sasha isn’t necessarily wrong when she thinks a down-on-his-luck Marcus can uproot to a new city with her, and Marcus has a point when he snipes that she’s become obsessed with a hoity-toity image that doesn’t ring true.
Wong and Park weren’t just thrown in together as the writers hoped for the best. They are the writers, having collaborated on the screenplay (along with Michael Golamco). They’re also seasoned comedians who appear together on Fresh Off the Boat — and the sitcom’s creator, Nahnatchka Khan, directs them here. I’m willing to bet Wong and Park made a pact early on to avoid all the genre’s comfort-food contrivances (NYC as the locale, a schmaltzy declaration of love) so they could instead focus on the relatable, witty dialogue. They both cut to the bone discussing each other’s pasts, futures and, um, Leonardo DiCaprio’s contributions to climate change. I’m not even allowed to reveal the most hilarious scene, but I’ll tease that, whoa, it’s hysterical.
For all its sharp edges, Always Be My Maybe is a softie at heart. This is a tale about appreciating the valuables in life, from good food to good friends. Either way, you’ll be salivating. Enjoy!
Always Be My Maybe is available to stream on Netflix on Friday, May 31
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