If they are being true to their genre, romantic comedies can end in only one way: a climactic kiss.
More common are such films as “When Harry Met Sally,” “You’ve Got Mail,” “Notting Hill” or “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Or even 1969’s little-remembered “John and Mary” in which Dustin Hoffman races across New York City to lay a lip-lock on Mia Farrow.
This is the genre to which Nahnatchka Khan’s Netflix Original film “Always Be My Maybe” belongs. It features two characters, friends since childhood, who wander almost by chance into sexual intimacy, quickly become estranged, but who ultimately weather a few ups and downs to reconnect for that traditional meeting of mouths.
Tradition, though, is a funny thing. Each generation tends to view it through a different lens, even if the basic tenets remain in place. In the case of “Always Be My Maybe,” it explicitly borrows from some the films I’ve named but it does so in an environment that is pure 21st century: Namely, its principal characters are all Asian.
Ali Wong and Randall Park stars as Sasha and Marcus, a star-crossed couple who from their early years are best buds. Sasha is the only child of a hard-working (read: negligent) couple, and she ends up bonding not only with Marcus but with his whole family – which lives next door.
Sasha allies especially with Marcus’ mother, who teaches her to cook – food being a principal part of Asian cinema, particularly romantic comedies.
After their short, near-disastrous sexual encounter, and fueled by feelings caused by a family death, Sasha and Marcus break up – and remain alienated for more than a decade. When they do reconnect, Sasha is a celebrity chef, traveling the breadth of the country to open fashionable restaurants, while Marcus has remained a San Francisco home-body, working for his dad and performing with the quartet that passes for a working band.
But nothing comes easy, even in an inevitable genre such as romantic comedy, so before the two can clasp hands they have to weather a number of obstacles – from other mismatched partners to their dueling and contrasting life ambitions, not to mention the memories of lingering past hurts.
Oh, and then there’s Keanu Reeves, who shows up playing himself in a way that is as surprising as it is scene-stealing. To say more would take us too far into spoiler territory.
It’s enough to say that Nahnatchka, working from a script written by Wong, Park and Michael Gomalco, manages to weave everything into an enjoyable example of the neo-rom-com – even if her roots in television production occasionally show through (where is that laugh-track, anyway?).
Part of what makes the film work is Wong and Park, who prove to be nearly as appealing in their lead roles as Constance Wu and Henry Golding did in last year’s “Crazy Rich Asians” – another film that featured Asian leads.
That’s the new tradition, then: The lovers may look different, but the kisses remain the same.
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