Comedy Drama

Review: ‘Shortcomings’ is a Charming Relationship Comedy that’s Another Win for Asian Representation

August 4, 2023Ben MK

Over the last few years, Asian American representation in movies has experienced a remarkable rise. From Crazy Rich Asians and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings to Everything Everywhere All at Once and Joy Ride, what was once a cavernous cinematic void has now been replaced by a steady stream of movies made by Asian filmmakers, starring Asian actors, and aimed at Asian moviegoers. It's a refreshing change of pace that, so far, shows no sign of slowing down. And with his directorial debut, Shortcomings, actor-turned-director Randall Park is adding his contribution to that trend, in this low-key relationship dramedy about one man's struggle with his own worst enemy — himself.

Starring After Yang's Justin H. Min and Joy Ride's Sherry Cola, the story follows Ben (Min), a 20-something-year-old from San Francisco who also happens to be something of a film snob. Once an aspiring filmmaker who now works as a manager at the Berkeley Arts Cinema, Ben is an argumentative idealist who hasn't had much reason to take a good, hard look in the mirror, instead spending most of his free time hanging out with his best friend Alice (Cola), a snarky commitment-phobe who hasn't yet worked up the nerve to tell her parents that she's gay. However, when Ben's 6-year relationship with his film festival co-organizer girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki) hits a rocky patch and she decides to move to New York City to pursue a potentially career-changing internship, Ben is suddenly forced to reconsider his own aspirations and, for the first time in his life, attempt to do something about it.

Taking his and Miko's unofficial break-up as a license to pursue other romantic opportunities, Ben decides to finally act on his infatuation with Caucasian women and make a move on Autumn (Tavi Gevinson), a recent hire at the Berkeley Arts Cinema, and then Sasha (Debby Ryan), a casual acquaintance of Alice's. But when neither of those rebound relationships end up panning out and Alice opts to temporarily move to New York City while she figures out her own life, Ben decides to follow suit and try to win Miko back. Unfortunately, he soon discovers that his ex-girlfriend has not only moved on, but that she's also moved in with her new boyfriend, a fashion designer named Leon (Timothy Simons). Will Ben's plan to surprise Miko by confronting her have a happy ending? Or will Ben actually have to accept the fact that his own shortcomings are what's been sabotaging him all along?

Based on the graphic novel by Adrian Tomine, Shortcomings is a movie that, while charming in its execution, doesn't shy away from addressing such uncomfortable themes as infidelity, racial fetishization and toxic behavior in relationships. As a protagonist, Ben is nowhere near as pure-intentioned as, say, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Tom in 500 Days of Summer. Still, Min does a fantastic job breathing life into the character and making him just as likeable and worth rooting for. It's a testament not only to Min's talents as an actor, but also to Park's direction and Tomine's screenplay, which manages to capture the essence of the source material while also putting a slightly different spin on things. And even if viewers might not necessarily agree with Ben's opinions, it's easy to empathize with him and to sympathize with his situation, thanks to the film's cast and their very relatable portayals.

It all adds up to a very watchable indie comedy that has no trouble wooing audiences with its smart script, quick-witted humor and endearing characters. As for the movie's title, a lesser film might find itself on the receiving end of a conveniently ironic pun. Luckily, there aren't too many shortcomings to Shortcomings itself.

Shortcomings releases August 4th, 2023 from Mongrel Media. The film has an MPAA rating of R for language throughout, sexual material and brief nudity. Its runtime is 1 hr. 32 min.

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