Debut not your traditional rom-com
Shortcomings is available to rent from Neon and AroVision.
(R13, 92 mins)
Directed by Randall Park Reviewed by James Croot
One of January’s Sundance Film Festival’s most unexpected delights and sheer crowd-pleasers, actor Randall Park’s (Young Rock, WandaVision) feature debut behind the camera is a hilarious and thoroughly entertaining adaptation of Adrian Tomine’s 2007 graphic novel.
Sure, it might not have the scintillating, shocking set-pieces or truly crazy characters that inhabited Adele Lim’s Joy Ride, or the outrageous opulence of Crazy Rich Asians (at which this takes an early dig), but this tale of three young Asian-Americans navigating the joys and pitfalls of modern relationships is certainly not short on charm.
While, naturally, it has plenty to appeal to today’s 20-somethings, I believe there’s also something in it for Gen X fans of Reality Bites and the movies of Kevin Smith (particularly Chasing Amy and Jersey Girl) – especially with its musings on popculture and cine-literate conversations – as well as the noughties flick that this most reminded me of in terms of eclectic tone and sensibility – Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know. Ben Tanaka (Beef’s Justin H. Min) is a cynical Californian cinema manager, whose relationship with girlfriend Miko (The Big Door Prize’s Ally Maki) is decidedly rocky.
Not only do their movie tastes seem misaligned, but he’s outraged that she could ever think that “a garish rom-com that vindicates capitalism” is a suitable cinematic reflection of their community.
So when she catches him watching porn on his computer (“I’ve been hacked,” he claims, while she confides to a friend that “what bothers me, are all the girls are white in the pages he has up”), she decides to take up a short-term Asian-American Institute internship in New York.
“No way am I moving to New York,” Ben states.
“I wasn’t really asking you to,” she snaps back.
Discussing the situation with friend Alice (Joy Ride’s Sherry Cola), for whom he sometimes poses as her partner (because “a Japanese boyfriend is marginally better than a lesbian daughter” for her Korean parents), the pair agree that maybe he shouldn’t chase Miko to the Big Apple.
But, after a couple of disastrous, brief, alternative relationships, Ben begins to wonder if he shouldn’t at least pay her a visit. Those expecting a traditional Hollywood rom-com should probably give Shortcomings a wide berth – there are no grand gestures or last-minute races through the city here.
Instead, there are sharp, sometimes snarky, usually self-centred observations on modern-day mores, bad behaviour and contemporary “art”.
Ben describes Alice as his “unreliable moral compass”, while he believes his performance artist temporary girlfriend Autumn’s (Tavi Gevinson) “episstemology” commentary on corruption and waste (which involves her taking a picture of her pee every day) would be better called “Urine-sane”. And yes, he gets served just as much as he dishes out.
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