Director: Randall Park
Writer: Adrian Tomine
Stars: Justin H. Min, Sherry Cola, Ally Maki
Synopsis: Follows a trio of young, Bay Area urbanites–Ben Tanaka, Miko Hayashi and Alice Kim–as they navigate a range of interpersonal relationships while traversing the country in search of the ideal connection.
With heavy hitters such as Barbie and Oppenheimer dominating the box office this summer, independent film releases worthy of attention can go unnoticed. That’s where the must-see rom-com Shortcomings comes into the mix, and though it’s not the most gripping film of the year, it’s undoubtedly one of the most authentic.
Based on the 2007 graphic novel of the same name by Adrian Tomine and with a directorial debut from Randall Park, Shortcomings explores love, identity, and growth. At the film’s beginning, we are introduced to Ben (Justin H. Min), an outspoken, self-centered film-loving jerk who manages a local movie theater and spends his free time watching Criterion Collection classics.
In fact, when it comes to his adoration for film, he’s a bit of a snob. After he and his long-term girlfriend, Miko (Ally Maki), attend a film festival, the pair have opposing views on the Crazy Rich Asians parody film that premiers at the event. As the couple is Asian American, Mika feels liberated by the on-screen representation and believes it’s a step in the right direction for future Asian American filmmakers.
On the other hand, Ben argues that the rom-com is uninspiring and generic, proclaiming that he would feel more represented if future filmmakers created something unique. The couple also seems to disagree a lot regarding their views, not to mention Ben’s attraction to white women and his desire to pursue a romantic connection with one whenever the opportunity arises.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Ben isn’t a very likable guy. He’s selfish, hypocritical, and insulting. Still, his comedic one-liners, ignorance, and lack of self-awareness provide copious amounts of entertainment, especially regarding his awkward dating experiences. Min transitions through Ben’s undesirable character traits flawlessly, and effortlessly flips the script, and executes humor and charisma when the moments call for it, reflecting his range as an actor.
Ben is at his most animated when spending time with his lesbian best friend Alice (Sherry Cola), who challenges his ideals and isn’t afraid to give him a piece of her mind. The dynamic works as the pair are outspoken, brutally honest with one another, and have an unspoken understanding. Alice represents that one friend we all need in life. We might feel a bit put out when they disagree with our life choices; but at the same time, they provide logical and valid advice that we need to hear.
Cola is having quite the year since starring in the risqué comedy Joy Ride, and her performance in Shortcomings doesn’t disappoint. Her moments on-screen are as charming as they are endearing, and I look forward to her future work. She and Min do a fantastic job of depicting two close friends with a genuine connection, and their back-and-forth banter gives audiences some of the feature’s most authentic moments. Ben is by no means pleasant, but we see glimpses of his softer side when he temporarily adopts the fictional title of Alice’s boyfriend, as she’s yet to disclose her sexual orientation to her family and fears how they will react to the news.
Miko’s relationship with Ben is relatable and something we are all likely to have experienced at some point in our lives. She delays an inevitable breakup, hoping the pair can overcome their challenges, as she hopes for change, yet it never arrives. On the other hand, Ben likes having his cake and eating it too. He stays in the relationship while being open to other romantic partners he views as preferable.
Min and Maki perfectly portray a relationship past its sell-by date that both parties hold onto due to comfort and fear of change, and their scenes alongside one another adequately capture the complexities of love. It would have been nice to see more of Maki’s personality throughout the film, as most of her scenes are disputes with Ben. Still, given that he’s the main character study of the story, most of which centers around their breakup, it’s understandable why she may have taken a back seat.
What I really admire about Shortcomings is its realness and simplistic “life happens” approach to storytelling. Though the film has little emotional depth and veers on the more lighthearted side, it addresses challenges people face in their everyday lives and plays out as a coming-of-age story for adults that you want to stick around until the end for.
The characters are flawed, but their journeys are a learning curve and help them become better people. Ben may not have the most groundbreaking conclusion, but, by the end, his experiences encourage him to look within and embrace growth. The story’s moral is that the grass isn’t always greener, and you should appreciate what you have because sometimes, once it’s gone, you can never get it back again.