Netflix makes a fairly generic, but fun, romantic comedy featuring a mostly Asian cast with refreshingly few stereotypes.
Vietnamese-American Sasha Tran (Miya Cech) and Korean-American Marcus Kim (Emerson Min) are neighbors in San Francisco. Due to Sasha’s parents being gone frequently for work, she often spends her dinners with Marcus’s family, even learning how to cook from Marcus’s mother, Judy (Susan Park). Years later, Sasha (Ashley Liao) and Marcus (Jackson Geach) are still close friends, but Judy dies in an accident. Sasha tries to comfort Marcus, which leads the two of them to have sex in a car. The ensuing awkwardness leads the two to fight and not speak to each other.
Sixteen years later, Sasha (Ali f*cking Wong) is a celebrity chef while Marcus (Randall Park) is living with his dad (James “The Shredder” Saito) and playing with his band. Sasha moves to San Francisco to open a new restaurant and runs into Randall when he and his father come to fix her apartment’s A/C. They reconnect as friends, with Sasha meeting Marcus’s flaky girlfriend Jenny (Vivian Bang). Sasha breaks up with her boyfriend Brandon (Daniel Dae Kim) and Marcus decides to tell her that he still has feelings for her, but she meets someone new the night before. She invites Jenny and Marcus to dinner with her new man, who is revealed to be none other than KEANU F*CKING REEVES. The evening quickly devolves as Reeves reveals himself to be strange and aggressive. He repeatedly demeans Marcus, until finally Marcus and Keanu start fighting. Jenny ends up staying the night with Keanu, and Sasha and Marcus start dating.
Marcus starts taking Sasha to all of the old, local restaurants that they went to as kids, trying to reconnect her to the city and her roots. She starts to fall in love with both Marcus and the local scene, realizing that her dislike of San Francisco was just a byproduct of her anger towards her absent parents. She reveals, however, that she’s still going back to New York to move on with her career and asks Marcus to come with her. He refuses and she leaves alone. Marcus realizes that, much as Sasha’s parents made her hate the idea of staying in San Francisco, Marcus’s mom’s death made him hate the idea of leaving. He moves out of his dad’s house, starts making his band successful, and tries to reconnect with Sasha, but gets no replies. Eventually, he discovers she’s been buying his band’s merchandise, leading him to ambush her on a red carpet and deliver a passionate speech promising to follow her wherever she goes. She forgives him and shows him her new restaurant, which is dedicated to Marcus’s mom.
Okay, so, this movie’s super generic in a lot of ways, but most rom-coms are basically just playing Mad Libs with names and jobs on the same script and we still love them. However, I do appreciate that this movie doesn’t have to portray any of its characters as idiots to try and up the comedy part of romantic comedy. I mean, yes, some of the scenes are weird and almost surreal, because it’s still a rom-com, but for the most part they’re not insane or played up for cheap laughs.
The movie has three really big positives:
First, the performances by Ali Wong and Randall Park are just so entertaining. Ali Wong is someone who would entertain me by reading a phone book humorously, but that’s what makes it better that she is cast as the more successful and slightly more “normal” of the two. Meanwhile, Randall Park is constantly showing just the right amount of insecurity and self-loathing underneath his nice-guy persona to allow the audience to gain some sort of pleasure in his misery, mostly because it’s self-inflicted and therefore earned in a traditional comic sense. When they interact, they both give off the exact vibes that the movie leads us to expect: That they were each their first loves. It makes everything that happens between them, from the resentment to the disappointment to the forgiveness all feel justified. It might be because Wong and Park have been friends for so long that it works between them, or maybe they’re both so lovable it’s easier to make it feel natural. Either way, the performances are above-average for this kind of schlock.
Second, this movie does get a slight benefit from casting two Asian comics for the lead in a rom-com. I know it shouldn’t matter, but on the other hand I can count on one hand the number of movies meant for general American audiences that are rom-coms with Asian leads. Because the movie plays up their different cultures as part of their backgrounds without going too heavy and requiring us to actually know anything about Korean-American or Vietnamese-American culture, it comes off as giving the characters something inherently more original than “guy who likes sports meets woman who doesn’t and hi-jinks ensue.” The movie also manages to avoid falling into any major stereotypes, likely because the two leads were also the ones who came up with the idea and worked on the script.
Third, Keanu Reeves. Look, this movie’s good, but if you want to know the thing that I most remember about it, it’s the scenes with Keanu. He plays a douchey version of himself so well that Neil Patrick Harris probably needs to take notes. What’s amazing is that apparently he added a decent amount to it, including the amazing character element that he wears glasses without lenses just to make himself look smart. He’s so hateable, but also so naturally likeable at the same time, that his interactions with the main characters could go either way and feel justified. You want to root against him because he’s keeping Sasha and Marcus apart, but also… he’s Keanu Reeves. It’s just such a great element in the film that really does distinguish it.
As for the bad parts:
It’s still a generic rom-com. When they get together, we know they’re going to break up then get back together again with some big gesture because every rom-com since When Harry Met Sally has told us that’s what happens. Hell, Ali Wong and Randall Park even said this was their version of that film. So, yeah, all the notes are the same and, aside from Keanu Reeves, most of the movie is just following the same generic script as all of the others. Also, them never speaking again after some post-coital awkwardness is maybe the most tired narrative device ever.
Overall, if you like romantic comedies, this is a prime example that does merit watching. If you don’t like the genre, you won’t like this.
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