A well-worn formula and sentimentality drag down some fun chemistry and a cultural specificity generally lacking from mainstream romantic comedies.
Let’s be frank: The squares at Netflix know what they’re doing. There’s a simple fiscal efficiency to chewing up and regurgitating genre films with broad mainstream appeal, and the streaming giant’s persistent ability to churn out romantic comedies — and stuff aimed explicitly at teens — remains, I assume, a significant part of its global business strategy. There have even been some good ones. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was, along with Love, Simon, one of the best rom-coms of last year, so I can live with the duds. Always Be My Maybe, out today, isn’t a dud, but it’s not exactly one of Netflix’s finest offerings either.
It’s complicated. Ali Wong and Randall Park play childhood best friends Sasha and Marcus, who — all together now — drifted apart, reunited by chance, and now have to figure out if their romantic futures intertwine. It’s a well-worn premise that holds few surprises, but because the film is sharply written and the chemistry between the leads makes for a convincingly believable friendship, that premise should be enough to sustain a lean 90-ish-minute romantic comedy. But it’s not.
Maybe it’s just me, but however much I bought these two as mates, I never bought them as romantic partners, and that’s pretty essential to what Always Be My Maybe is trying to accomplish. And without that connection, the problems with the film’s conflicting objectives start to make themselves more apparent. When Always Be My Maybe functions as a low-key character-focused comedy, it’s funny and engaging; whenever it moves into broad genre pastiche territory, it falls apart a bit. The humor works but the sentimentality mostly doesn’t and like most of Netflix’s offerings in this market, this one tends to lean more into the latter as it goes along.
For many — perhaps even most — none of this will matter. What works will work well enough, and the story’s notably specific Asian-American identity will elevate it more than its cheap production, lackadaisical approach and smugly self-referential moments drag it down. Maybe I’m just old and cynical and unromantic. Either way, I couldn’t shake the sense that Always Be My Maybe feels more like Always Be My Maybe, But Maybe Not.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.