Wednesday, August 7, 2019





Dir. by - Nahnatchka Khan 
Prod. by - Nathan Kahane, 
Erin Westerman, Randall Park, Ali Wong
Written by - Ali Wong, 
Randall Park, 
Michael Golamco
Director of Photography - 
Tim Suhrstedt
Edited by - Lee Haxall 
Production Design -
Richard Toyon
Music by - 
Michael Andrews Greyboy

Run Time: 102 mins.
5/29/19 (select theatrical) 
5/31/19 (Netflix)
Distrubuted by - Netflix

GullCottage rating
(**** on a scale of 1-5)

     There's a scene in Douglas Trumball's 1983 experiential sci fi film BRAINSTORM where project head Cliff Robertson says to his tech development leaders Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood (they in charge of creating a headset which can transfer both first person memories and emotions from one person to another as simply as you'd make a phone call), "I want you to knock my socks off!". And to this day that line always comes to mind when I see a film, hear a piece of music, watch a stand-up concert or whatever which I didn't expect to floor me as much as it did.

     That rare phrase came clearly to mind earlier tonight (well, technically yesterday as it's past midnight now) while finally getting around to watching the Netflix feature rom-com ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE. Now, before you make that face, ...yeah, yeah, I know! Most friends and acquaintances I know who've seen the film have made mention of the fact that it's a charming - and even darned good -rom-com, but in the grand scheme of things really no great shakes, and certainly no WHEN HARRY MET SALLY or other such film. But I disagree. It actually is, and for reasons I think many have overlooked. Here me out to the end of this and I think you just may (gulp! ... dare I say) find yourself agreeing with me. At any rate ...

     I believe that, not unlike with comic book adaptations, audiences (and certainly high minded cineaestes) are conditioned to not expect any kind of noteworthy socio-political layerings within certain genres. And because they don't expect it as they might with for example a Terence Malick or Oliver Stone or other sort of film, ... well, they don't find it. But take a look say at two comic book films which opened within less than a month of each other in 2016 - CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. Both are perhaps two of the most trenchant post 9/11 films ever made, be they "comic book adaptation", "serious" or otherwise. Both deal with a societal / national security response after a terrorist-like attack of mass destruction. And both are about how a group of individuals who normally should be on the same page suddenly find themselves divided by a blurred line where "prudent response" and "xenophobic paranoia" (and the possible suspension of civil rights because of it) places them in violent ideological conflict with one another. I've always said that if one fails (or refuses) to see that blatant socio-political warning within those films then you should just hand in your official movie fan card. But that's another posting.

     Let's face it - the average social "message" (if you wanna go that route) is more often than not much more effectively carried and injected into society's bloodstream via the less overtly self-aware cloaking which a standard (even played out and cliched') genre film can offer than by it's more "serious" (if you will) cinematic kin. Think back on the original PLANET OF THE APES (1968) and how it subtly and subverisvely carried many of the same socio-political discussion points into mainstream America which at the time caused similarly themed - but more obvious - films like THE DEFIANT ONES and GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER to be protested and even banned in some southern American states. Now, don't get me wrong, ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE isn't a "cloaked socio-political manifesto" of any kind. Certainly not like the original APES and other films from ROLLERBALL to ALIEN NATION to CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR were. It's a charming and amusing rom-com. But precisely because it's so damned normal is exactly why it so impressively (cue Cliff) "knocked my socks off".

Social relevance through pop genre: Franklin Schaffner's PLANET OF THE APES (1968) / 

     Think about it - the comedy series WILL AND GRACE arguably did more to advance among the general Joe & Jane Middle America populace the simple concept that gay folks are as normal as anyone else than did decades of damn good / critically acclaimed serious films like THAT CERTAIN SUMMER, LONGTIME COMPANION and PHILADELPHIA. And as for ethnic representation and racially themed subject matter, observe how similarly more typical / normal (and perhaps even cliched') sitcoms like SANFORD & SON, BLACK-ISH, JANE THE VIRGIN and UGLY BETTY did more on a regular basis to drive home the fact that African-Americans and Latin-Americans are as (surprise, surprise) normal and as all American as anyone else than did twenty years of more overtly dramatic Oscar and Emmy bait films and series which trafficked in said similar subject matter.

     This those series did by a) ... and super importantly! ... simply being funny, and b) by simply being accurate to the unique experiences of certain folks to such a degree that (via that wonderful experiential mechanism of emotional transference we call cinema) other folks ironically found those experiences to be not unique at all but similar to their own. That is why ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE "blew my socks off" in the best BRAINSTORM-like way. WHEW! See, it all came full circle didn't it, even while you were thinking the whole time "Where the hell is he going with all of this?". Haha!

Director Nahnatchka Khan (center) on set 

     The premise of ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE is simple, ... perhaps in the extreme. But it's this (so-called) "simplicity" which - for me anyway - works as such an effective hook into the audience's "sense of personal familiarity". The film opens by covering the childhood-to-young-adult lives of San Francisco latchkey kid Sasha Tran (whose parents are always involved elsewhere) and next door neighbor Marcus Kim - whose family kinda / sorta comes to adopt Sasha as their surrogate own. Needless to say, spending so much time together as BFF's, Sasha and Marcus come to fall in love over the years, though neither of them realize it, ... or at least aren't willing to admit it. That is until one clumsy evening when both lose their virginity to one another and, unable to get around the initial discomfort, they go their separate ways. Years later as adults Sasha is a successful celebrity chef engaged to a famous corporate restaurateur, and Marcus runs a local business with his father (character actor fave James Saito) while performing in a talented-but-really-going-nowhere local band called "Hello Peril". The two meet, reconnect, and realize - through a series of genuinely funny and perceptive episodic ups and downs - that they're indeed soul mates destined to be together ... if each can only get out of their own way and let their hearts do the deciding rather than their uber-careful and too protective and practical minds.  Anyway, ...

Girls night out with Veronica (Michelle Buteau) and Sasha (Ali Wong)

     To a degree it's the standard "Boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy gets girl back" paradigm we've seen in a thousand other rom-coms. But (once again for me at least) the greatness or lame-ness / success or failure in using a tried-and-true (or, hell, even played out) genre to unique effectiveness is in how you use that "tried and true"-ness to new effect. And director Nahnatchka Khan's (not only narratively, but fimically / technically profecient-as-all-hell) film tosses in a few subtle and relatively "subversive" ideas during it's clever "rom-com retread" trip.

     FIRST OF ALL it deliberately steers away from the standard and cliched' "The woman is emotionally open while the guy is emotionally closed off" bullsh*t. The best romantic films over the years have been those which have similarly veered from that stale yawner trope as well. Pull from your memory files both THE WAY WE WERE and PRETTY WOMAN as examples - where both the female and male characters suffer from a degree of narrow-mind-ed-ness, ideological extremeism and "I'm always right"-ed-ness born of a hurtful past. And how in both films the characters becoming involved with one another causes them both to reach a more realistic and life productive "middle ground". Gary Marshall's PRETTY WOMAN (1990) even goes so far as to have it's characters (one a prostitute and one a heartless corporate raider) acknowledge that " ... We both f**k people for money". Damn, Skippy!

     SECONDLY Khan's rom-com is perceptive (and funny) as all get-out in observing and making comment upon how so many relationships are built upon, ... no, not those staples we all claim to cherish - y'know, like honesty, communication and such. But how so many are more often built upon a foundation of what is not said or acknowledged: upon assumptions of that which we presume (or at least hope) the other person is obviously aware. ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE hits this particular relationship phenomena / conundrum right on the head as few films I've seen have ever done. And THIRDLY ... . And yes I know "thirdly"'s not really a word. But anyway, THIRDLY ...

And, yup! Keanu shows up too ... in perhaps his most hilarious performance since 1989's PARENTHOOD

     Khan's film does one of the best jobs I've seen in recent years of (and, yeah, it does sound like contemporary PC "inclusion" cliche') celebrating a culture. But it does so without hitting you over the head with it as if we're sitting down to fourth period junior high school Social Studies class. Sasha and Marcus are Asian-Americans (both the children of immigrants) who - while totally American-ized - also second-naturedly practice family / traditional customs in the same way in which we all do even though we really seldom realize it. At the very beginning of the film, when grammer school latchkey kid Sasha arrives home to an empty rowhouse and lets herself in, the first thing she does is remove her shoes. But it's just in the natural flow of things. No big deal is made of it. And later while helping Marcus' mother prepare dinner (a major part of the impetus which drives her to be a successful chef later in life) she's shown how Koreans often use scissors to cut ingrediants. But again this and more are almost done in a peripheral / throwaway manner as to not draw attention to itself.

     And by not making a big deal of it, the fact that these Americanized kids still hold onto certain old country ethnic traditions does become a (subtle) big deal. It reminds me of how a beloved high school teacher of mine once said she preferred thinking of America not as a "melting pot" - where all of the elements merged into one single homgenously bland new element, but more a "salad bowl" - where each ingredient maintained it's own uniqueness, and because of this the whole had a much more interestingly / multi-layered flavor than it would possess otherwise. Khan's film nicely does the same.

     So, how's that for knocking one's socks off!? 

Vivian Bang steals the show as delightfully ditzy, wanna-be "Earth Mother", Jenny

     Many such cultural traditions and more are casually sprinkled throughout the narrative and character design of the film. And they, like a properly seasoned dish or perfectly fermented and aged spirit (forgive the analogy, but I spent half my life working in restaurants!) give the film a uniqueness - an ironic normalcy - in having them there but not drawing a distractingly self-aware "Look Ma, I'm directing and making an empowering cultural point" kind of attention to themselves. For my money this is the best and most effective manner of cinematic cultural inclusion rather than turning a culture, any culture!, into an iconic untouchable "something" which borders on the mythic rather than the everyday normal.

     And, oh yeah, along those lines there are also a nifty handful of good-natured (while simultaneously acerbic) digs at cultural appropriation, assimilation and ethnic profiling too. One of the funniest and most "ouch"-like occurs during a discussion between Sasha and her "Girl Friday" assistant Veronica (portrayed by stand-up comedian / podcast host Michelle Buteau) where they're discussing the stationary on which her new Asian themed restaurant will print it's menu, and Sasha / Wong says "Nah, use the rice paper, white people eat that sh*t up!".

     Those familiar with history will also grin at how the name of Marcus / Park's Bay Area band in the film, "Hello Peril", is a twist on the xenophobic phrase "Yellow Peril" used years ago by those who feared an "Asian invasion" of the West. So, yeah, some of the humor here is surprisigly / refreshingly of the non-politically correct and polite sort. But if you know anything of the stand-up of Ali Wong, and the writing, acting and music history of Randall Park, none of this will come as any shocking surprise. More than anything, however ...

     ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE is romantic as all hell. But whether or not one sees it as such (as do I) of course depends upon one's personal definition of "romantic". For me there's nothing in the world more romantic than an extended conversation. I can count on one hand the number of times in life I've gone on dates - usually dinner - then afterwards me and the woman just walked and talked, or we'd drive to some riverside area and talk and talk and talk into the wee hours. Those times when you're so unaware that you're so in synch with each other's personalities and mindsets that not only do the hours disappear as minutes, but you don't even notice you're finishing each other's sentences, and that you're getting all of the other person's (what you both thought were) obscure references. And, hey, how your often twisted senses of humor bounce off of one another in perfect rhythm.

Character actor fave James Saito (L) and Randall Park (R) as Harry Kim and son Marcus

     The best relationships (be they longer ones or regrettably shorter ones) begin this way. And to this day I remember those kinds as being most important to my formation as a well rounded adult. Because of this I've always found the most romantic films to be those which are able to somehow bottle that lightning of "there's nothing more romantic and sexy than an extended conversation". And as such to this day "dialog rhythm heavy" romantic films like ROMAN HOLIDAY, AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR, THE WAY WE WERE, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, the underrated OSCAR AND LUCINDA, WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, BEFORE SUNRISE and more are the ones which have always stolen my heart. There's a real life magic in that "dialog rhythm" thing, and Khan's film captures it to great effect. So much so that I just might have to rate this one as one of my ten all time fave rom-coms ever. Yup, it's that good.

     I'll wrap things up by tossing out quick "kudos!" to a fantastic (and a most naturalistic) cast which wonderfully brings it all to life. And particular shout-outs along those lines to actress Vivian Bang - who steals every scene she's in as the charmingly "new agey" Jenny, and Keanu Reeves - who has a grand 'ol time spoofing a ficticious version of himself ... as well as self-indulgent, uber sensitive and hyper self-aware Hollywood stereotypes.

     And, oh, if you're as old as I am you'll be thrilled to see characer actor fave James Saito - who's been a fixture in everything over the last 30+ years from voicing "The Shredder" in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES to DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE, LIFE OF PI, PEARL HARBOR, and TV movies and shows such as FAREWELL TO MANZANAR, M*A*S*H, T.J. HOOKER, MIAMI VICE, IRON FIST and more. Here he plays Marcus' father. And as such it's awesomely refreshing to see him finally get to play a normal guy. His performance here makes me truly hope he gets more roles along this line. Anyway ...

     In case you couldn't tell by now, I really REALLY dig this one! Sweet where it should be, and a little sour where needed (the end title rap song "I Punched Keanu Reeves" is the damned funniest thing you'll hear all year - haha!), Nahnatchka Khan's ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE is the perfect confection for those who want a little substance, intelligence ... and a bit 'a attitude ... to go along with satisfying that cinematic sugar craving.



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1 comment:

  1. As always, Craig, you're writing is crisp, bright, intelligent, and entertaining. Your conversational style is refreshingly natural.I always feel as though we're having a personal conversation when I'm fortunate enough to read your latest prose. Your writing never wastes time or space, but lands a clearly projected missile of both clarity and truth. You have an infectious journalistic talent that makes the reader feel brighter for sharing your thoughts. You made me want to see and experience the film through your eyes and sensibilities, and that is a rare and special talent.