August 3, 2023

SCREEN | Randall Park Goes Long on 'Shortcomings'

"Change is hard for assholes like us."
Justin H. Min Timothy Simons Ally Maki Randall Park | Shortcomings
Sony Pictures Classics / Mongrel Media
Comedian Randall Park makes his directorial debut behind the camera in the slacker comedy Shortcomings about the Asian-American male gaze based on the 2007 graphic novel of the same name by The New Yorker cartoonist Adrian Tomine who also scripted the film adaptation. Its title is a reference to the limitations of both modern (interracial) dating culture as well as romance or relationships within your own race.

Starring Justin H. Min and Sherry Cola as self-involved best friends in the Bay Area, Tomine's characters never pull any punches with Min's almost irredeemable Ben, a misanthropic film snob, constantly fantasizing about sex (approaching ricecel territory) with white women while decrying the perils of interracial coupling. Park opens the film with a reference to mainstream entertainment like Crazy Rich Asians to comment on complex Asian-American ideals of cultural acceptance, assimilation, and representation.

Randall surrounds Min's caustic Ben with an intriguing supporting cast including Ally Maki as his (ex-)girlfriend in a tricky role where we sympathize with her unhappiness while also seeing her as a villain after completely ghosting and lying to Ben. Min's performance gets across a very specific kind of contemporary Asian-American male seduced by the grievances of identity politics devoid of any ability to self-actualize and address his acknowledged fatal flaws as an adult.

What grounds the film's trickier elements is the friendship between Ben and Cola's Alice, a not completely out lesbian with her own romantic entanglements. When characters do bad things, have bad takes, or discuss their own failings around fidelity, fetishization, or attraction, we know where they're coming from and understand their self-aware but unhealthy tendencies.

Shortcomings is an (almost too) authentic but entertaining comedic dramatization of complicated Asian-American romance and relationships. Park and Tomine's balance of humour and heart with its funny but often toxic characters makes for a breezy film filled with laugh-out-loud cringe humour. It's probably too true to life in its conception.

More | YVArcade / Indiewire / Tyee / Vogue

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