There’s one scene in the Netflix romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe where main characters Marcus Kim and Sasha Tran are arguing about her latest pan-Asian fusion restaurant.
Marcus tells her,
“You know what other term I hate? Elevated Asian cuisine. Asian food isn’t supposed to be elevated, it’s supposed to be authentic.”
The statement is pretty representative of the creators’ viewpoint of Always Be My Maybe itself. In the film, written by and starring Randall Park and Ali Wong, Asian culture is steadfast throughout the movie, but never tries to overpower the story. Instead, it is embedded in the larger character arcs as well as the smallest of details. We see a young Sasha slide off her shoes at the door and sprinkle furikake on her rice in one scene. And in another, the characters go out for dim sum and joke about learning Cantonese to get better service.
Park is Korean American, and Wong is of Chinese and Vietnamese descent, so as a result, the characters feel realistic and the dialogue feels lived-in, but ethnicity is secondary here.
Always Be My Maybe doesn’t take itself too seriously. It isn’t trying to be a sweeping statement piece or a big, important Asian Representation Film. It’s not going to bother explaining why an Asian love story deserves to be told onscreen. It’s just going to move forward with the plot — a sharply funny and sweet romantic comedy between two characters who happen to be Asian.
As a result, the film feels like eating a big bowl of kimchi-jjigae — warm, inviting, and satisfying in the way only comfort food can be.
Always Be My Maybe tracks Marcus (Park) and Sasha (Wong) over the span of nineteen years, beginning with the pair’s childhood friendship as next door neighbors in San Francisco. Sasha, whose parents are always busy working, spends most of her evenings over at the Kim household. She goofs around with Marcus and cooks and eats dinner with his family, spawning Sasha’s love of food.
The pair’s friendship blossoms into romance just before the two are set to head off to college (or Sasha is, anyway). But just as quickly, the romance is quashed and the two have a falling out. They don’t reconnect until sixteen years later when Sasha returns to San Francisco as a celebrity chef preparing to open a new restaurant. Marcus is an unambitious musician still playing the San Francisco dive bar circuit. The romance rekindles but new obstacles surface as the characters struggle to reconcile with their two very different worlds and the gender roles that define them.
Perhaps the most revolutionary thing about Always Be My Maybe is its subtle subversion of how Asian characters are depicted onscreen. So rarely do Asian characters get to be part of the main narrative, instead usually relegated to bit parts and B storylines.
Though the script is working with well-worn tropes, it still manages to feel groundbreaking by giving Asian actors the platform to forge their way into the fairytale narrative usually reserved for straight, white actors.
When Marcus (predictably, but sweetly) delivers a swoony speech declaring his love for Sasha in front of dozens of paparazzi, he opens the door just a little bit wider for all of the Asian male leads to come, dispelling the quiet notion that the Asian guy is almost never the romantic male lead who gets picked at the end. He just wants to be the guy who holds Sasha’s purse, he tells her. And Sasha is strong, secure, and successful enough that she might just let him.
Ultimately, Always Be My Maybe is a charming, if predictable, romantic comedy that feels wholly authentic. It is packed with Asian representation and cultural nuance but chooses to let those aspects enrich the story rather than overshadow it.
The love story is a sweet and romantic tale of a smart, successful woman re-falling in love with a guy who’s not sure he can keep up. It might seem overdone and saccharine, but it’s flavored with a dash of realism to keep everything grounded in reality.