A hilarious and candid comedy that embraces our imperfections, self-inflicted wounds, and the holes we put ourselves in.
Directed by Randall Park, we review the 2023 movie Shortcomings, which does not contain spoilers.
The Sundance Film Festival entry, Shortcomings, comes from Fresh Off the Boat’s Randall Park. This is his first time behind the camera, and his freshman effort is one of the most bluntly honest romantic comedies you will ever see. For instance, the lead character, putting it as politely as possible, is a well-rounded lead who is brilliantly flawed. The blunt way to put it is he is a real son-of-a-bitch. It’s a rom-com featuring a character that is hard to love.
Shortcomings (2023) Review and Plot Summary
The movie follows the depressed, bitter, and opinionated Ben Tanaka (After Yang’s Justin H. Min), a former film student who dropped out a couple of years prior. Ben currently manages an independent movie theatre. He is dating his longtime girlfriend, Miko (New Girl’s Ally Maki), and they seem to be an odd pair.
For one, Ben seems to be walking through life in a daze with no ambition and never living in the moment. When Miko comes out while Ben is watching television late at night, asking if he is coming to bed, she isn’t worried about his REM sleep. Ben dismisses her and says he will be in later, avoiding the tarmac and bright lights Miko is putting out for him.
Miko has a promising career and keeps trying to improve by applying for an internship at an Asian film foundation in New York City, where she will relocate for a few months. After she leaves, Ben leans on his best friend, Alice (Turning Red‘s Sherry Cola). She is gay, but coming from a conservative Asian family, her being a lesbian will be a problem for her support system. So, she often asks Ben to pretend to be her boyfriend. Ben is often himself with Alice more than he ever is with Miko. No topic is untouchable between the two.
Written by Adrian Tomine, based on her graphic novel, it is a modern and bluntly honest rom-com, as Ben often debates dating that overlaps with current modern-day themes on race and culture. Stereotypes of Asian masculinity and interracial attraction are often discussed. For instance, Miko often is bothered by Ben’s infatuation with watching porn with white women.
Alice also comments on the stereotype of Ben as the typical Asian male attracted to “white” girls, never more evident when Ben begins to show interest in a new employee, Autumn (Tavi Gevinson), an artist who documents what her urine looks like before every flush and calls it art. Or when Ben chases after Sasha (a refreshing Debby Ryan), a bisexual woman on the rebound.
Park’s film not only excels within micro and mezzo struggles. Watching Min’s Ben keep sticking his foot in his mouth with his personal life is funny and well drawn. (Watching how Ben acts the same between Miko and Sasha, but how well each tolerates his toxicity). The other is how Park and Tomine view the struggles of these young men and women, mainly how they fight to be pulled and placed in their “appropriate” lanes, as society and their families view them.
This is brought to life by some good performances, particularly Justin Min and Ally Maki. This is a relationship that is failing. A courtship is held together by expectations they choose to use to cover up flaws. There should be tension between them, and their relationship crumbles when that inevitable time comes. Park is not afraid to embrace the anger, sadness, contempt, and closure that come with such a significant life event.
Is the 2023 film Shortcomings good?
Shortcomings is a very funny observational comedy that Min’s Ben makes unnerving as much as it can be hilarious. Ben is a modern character, and that’s fascinating as he places himself outside his marginalized support system and community. Park’s film is a candid comedy that embraces behavioral imperfections and the holes we put ourselves in.
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