Always Be My Maybe–Rom-Com At Its Best

The Netflix Original Always Be My Maybe gives us a reason for watching rom-coms again. A modern riff on “When Harry Met Sally.”

Set in San Francisco, Always Be My Maybe is  a story of childhood sweethearts who go their separate ways only to meet up fifteen years later.  Sasha Tran (Ali Wong) and Marcus Kim (Randall Park) were best friends who, as teenagers,  had sex for the first time and then stopped talking to each other.   Marcus is  now a dorky musician still living at home with his widowed dad,  and working in his dad’s business.  Sasha is a renowned chef with successful restaurants on both the East and West Coasts.  Sasha’s manager-friend calls an airconditioning service to install a system in  their rented mansion and voilá–there is Marcus.

Sasha’s “non-denominational pan-Asian fusion” restaurant “Saintly Fare”, soon to open in San Francisco, caters to the  high-end beautiful people. When the new menus are ready, she tells her assistant to print them on rice paper: “White people eat that shit up,” she says half- jokingly.  And Always Be My Maybe  is rich with biting, laugh-out loud dialogue of a similar vein.

And –will wonders never cease–Sasha is a successful woman pursuing a career without subordinating her professional aspirations to  her relationships with men.  Yet, as is the standard in rom-com stories, Sasha does not realize her heart still beats faster for Marcus.

Sasha is enjoying her friends and her success.  She still has fondness for Marcus’s dad and the memories of her childhood with Marcus.  She’s vulnerable, but no-nonsense, determined, and  motivated to continue her successful trajectory in building a restaurant empire.

Always Be My Maybe

And then enters Keanu Reeves, Marcus’s competition for Sasha, and his worst nightmare.  In a delicious parody, Keanu Reeves plays himself as a celebrity who knows he is charming and a babe-magnet.  This is  a wild comedic turn for him–bringing back his over-the-top performance in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” from over thirty years ago.

The writing kicks into high gear here, with self-mocking wit that avoids the “saggy middle” of many narratives, but particularly of rom-coms.  Always Be My Maybe  holds on to its central question–can best friends become lovers?  And at times answers in  whispers, uncomfortably close to bruising the  hearts of both Sasha and Marcus. Authenticity isn’t sacrificed for a laugh. 

Minor characters besides Keanu Reeves add to the extraordinary humor and one-line zingers.  There is Brandon Choi, a highly successful restaurateur, more focused on the Silicon Valley zeal of an entrepreneur than on his fiancée. There’s Marcus’s girlfriend Jenny, an Asian American hippie with dreadlocks. 

Always Be My Maybe is simultaneously uproarious and touchingly real. There is no “maybe” about it. This rom-com is just   too good to miss.

Note:  Released on Netflix May 29, 2019

Which Way Home –Is There One?

Which Way Home review about immigrant children crossing the Mexico-US border in 2005.

In this gripping 2010 Academy Award nominated HBO documentary, Which Way Home opens with something large and bulbous floating down the Rio Grande. The viewer soon learns it is a corpse, perhaps that of a child, and an observer comments matter-of-factly that this happens multiple times a day.

Director Rebecca Cammisa follows the struggles of a handful of young, unaccompanied Central American children (all of them boys except for one nine-year-old girl) who are determined to jump the border to a new home in the United States.  Riding on the top of freight trains nicknamed “The Beast”, these young migrants experience the exhausting, dangerous migration from small villages in Honduras and Guatemala.   Facing an almost unimaginably treacherous trip of thousands of miles before even reaching the U.S. border,  these children sometimes die, survive with amputated  limbs, or suffer from predators (including the police).  At first the children seem clueless, thinking the journey will be an adventure with a materially fabulous life like the ones pictured on television and in the movies. For those who are orphans or running away,  possible adoption at the end of the arduous train ride is their dream.  Their parents don’t know what their children will face either, often paying thousands of dollars to smugglers who promise safety at the end of the road. This is in the year 2005.

We learn that child migrants have many reasons for wanting to get to the United States, some involving helping their families by sending money home, some trying to reunite with parents they haven’t seen for years, and one trying to save his mother from an abusive stepfather. 

Which Way Home is overwhelming: seeing children (and adults) in such grave need, forced to accept life-threatening choices.  The viewer follows small children  into a hostile, lawless frontier.  Sadly, the youngsters have a romantic dream to travel with the expectation that they will succeed.

There’s a scene in which an adult has met two nine-year-olds, Olga and Freddie. And he asks: What do you want to be when you grow up? They both say “we want to be a doctors.” And he responds that anything they  want to do they can do.   And, to me, that was perhaps  the most tragic line in the entire film.  The reality is clear.  What they want to do is unlikely to ever  happen.

As the US continues to fight over building a wall along the Mexican border, Which Way Home  shows the personal cost of immigration through the eyes of these young children who courageously face harrowing circumstances beyond their control.

Stories of hope and courage, disappointment and betrayal, render these children less invisible–if only we will see.  This film is absolutely heartbreaking.  Are they alive? Did they cross into the US? 

Note:  Available on Netflix DVD.

The Hate U Give –T.H.U.G.

The Hate U Give is an adaptation of Angie Thomas’s bestseller by the same name (released in February 2017).  Starr Carter,   a sixteen-year-old gifted student, has to adeptly maneuver between two worlds — her poor, mostly black neighborhood and a wealthy, mostly white prep school. Facing pressure from all sides, Starr must find her voice and decide to stand up for what’s right.

Beautiful  newcomer,  Amandla Stenberg, is perfectly cast as the  wounded, courageous high school student who attends an elite white private school because her mother Lisa (a superb Regina Hall) insists she has a bright future, one that most of their neighborhood’s teen residents will not have.  

Shedding her hoodie, swallowing any aggression that might make her seem “ghetto,” and eradicating black slang, Starr endures  her white peers, including boyfriend Chris (“Riverdale” star K J Apa) and friend Kayleigh (Sabrina Carpenter) who have appropriated what they think is “cool” from black youth.  Painful tolerance is evident on Starr’s face.  “If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me,” Starr tells Chris in response to his clueless-white-boy pride in  “not seeing color.”  Yet Starr also has to  straddle  differing opinions  of her blackness and suspicions about her elitist classmates.

Starr’s life is carefully compartmentalized. Yet it seems she can only truly relax around her loving family.  In a deeply moving and unforgettable scene, Maverick, her father  (sympathetically played by Russell Hornsby), is sitting at the dining room table giving his elementary school-age son a lesson on how to survive a traffic stop by a white cop.  Maverick insists that his young son copy how he should place his hands on the dashboard, head down, avoiding eye contact.  The little boy has no comprehension why his father’s doing this.

After a raucous and typical teenage party where Starr reconnects with her  childhood playmate and crush Khalil (Algee Smith), the story becomes tragic. Starr will become the  only witness, at first reluctantly, to a night of infamy.

The Hate U Give offers a fascinating portrayal of the inspiration and moral courage of youth,  especially  black youth, who struggle to understand and survive  the racism and brutality they encounter from infancy. Solidarity against the enemy should not have to mean harboring and hating the enemy within.  The lessons to be learned from The Hate U Give and the power of understanding the self-destructive force of hate are nuanced, not dogmatic.

 The Hate U Give deserves wide circulation.   Enraging, heartbreaking, and ultimately deeply moving,  none of the young people should ever have been asked to make these impossible choices.   Although the ending is rather weak,  the true ending IMHO is when Starr finds her voice.  The Hate U Give’s impact lies in using film to  demand concrete social change.

Note: Available on Netflix as a DVD and soon available on HBO.