by Hope Madden
Shortcomings, the feature directorial debut from Randall Park, wants to know what you thought about Crazy Rich Asians.
Did you celebrate it as a massive commercial and critical success that centered in every respect on Asians? Did you see it as a much-needed splash of representation? Or were you unable to see past its mediocre, formulaic fairy tale “money actually does fix everything” themes?
Or could you just be happy that, although it was not a very good film, its massive success opened up opportunities that did not exist before for Asian artists?
Ben (Justin H. Min, After Yang) is the second (hated it). No surprise, Ben hates everything because Ben is an asshole. He offers withering opinions of everyone and everything, so his girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki) isn’t surprised when he decides not to accompany her to New York for her internship.
Actually, she didn’t invite him.
Park’s film, based on Adrian Tomine’s insightful adaptation of his own graphic novel, does the extraordinary – thanks in large part to Min’s spectacular lead performance. They center 90 minutes of our lives around a thoroughly unlikeable protagonist and make us enjoy it.
Min haunted the liltingly lovely After Yang with a devastatingly tender performance. Ben is not Yang, and Min proves nimble with a character who has so little to offer and yet manages to compel interest throughout the tale, though he extends little energy to do it.
A spot-on ensemble helps him out, perhaps because Min reveals Ben so thoughtfully through his interactions with these characters, and partly because the minor characters are so intriguing.
Sherry Cola, hot off her hilarious turn in Joy Ride, is Alice, Ben’s equally acerbic best friend. Tavi Gevinson is inspired as the starving artist pixie Autumn adored by Ben and all the employees at the crumbling movie theater he manages. Sonoya Mizuno (Ex-Machina) and Debby Ryan also pop in for a few scenes of excellent work, while Jacob Batalon (Pete’s best friend in the new Spider–Man movies) gets to make a funny line about Spider-Man while Timothy Simons is a stitch as Miko’s new beau.
It’s smart humor, one that recognizes the defensiveness and fear at the heart of Ben’s disdain for anything that swings for the fences, and for anyone who puts themselves in the vulnerable position to try and fail.
And without succumbing to schmaltz in any measure, Shortcomings asks whether Ben – whether any of us cynics – can just move from Crazy Rich Asians viewer #2 to #3. Not because it was good, but because it opened the door for Shortcomings.