'Shortcomings' review: Messy, rock-bottom characters make Randall Park's comedy

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A man and a female thin to 1 broadside connected a metropolis sidewalk.

Justin H. Min and Sherry Cola successful "Shortcomings." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Shortcomings opens pinch a movie successful a movie. We meet Mrs. Wong (Everything Everywhere All At Once's Stephanie Hsu), a female successful a fancy yellowish gown, conscionable arsenic her exertion for a penthouse flat gets rejected. Seconds later, her suit-wearing hubby (M3GAN's Ronny Chieng) buys nan full building, prompting nan 2 to buss passionately successful nan elevator up to their caller luxury home. Fireworks erupt, fairy communicative euphony swells, and a title paper proclaims that this is "just nan beginning..."

Cut to an assemblage of rapturous viewers astatine nan East Bay Asian American Film Festival. Everyone leaps to springiness a opinionated ovation isolated from 1 disdainful man. That man is Ben Tanaka (Justin H. Min), and he will beryllium our misanthropic guideline done Randall Park's hilarious characteristic directorial debut, based connected nan schematic caller by Adrian Tomine.

While everyone astir Ben gushes astir nan film, acknowledging that it's "a small glossy, but it's ours," he tin only muster up nan anemic connection that it was "quite an event." As he later tells his woman and show organizer Miko (Ally Maki), he couldn't guidelines nan "garish, mainstream" romanticist drama they conscionable sat through, which, yes, bears a pointed resemblance to Crazy Rich Asians. Is it really a triumph for Asian American practice if this is nan movie nan organization chooses to celebrate?

Ben — a struggling filmmaker himself arsenic good arsenic a certified movie bro — would overmuch alternatively Asian characters successful movies person flaws, for illustration himself and everyone he knows. It's a spot of a meta ask, arsenic Shortcomings, itself an "event" of Asian American representation, is each excessively happy to oblige. Its characters are messy, selfish, and often conscionable inches distant from hitting stone bottom, and nary are much truthful than Ben. And herein lies 1 of Shortcomings' astir intriguing tensions: Ben is truthful wished to preach astir really overmuch he wants to spot flawed characters, but he has perfectly nary volition of addressing his ain failings.

Shortcomings' Ben is simply a naughty who won't admit his flaws — and you can't look away.

A man and female successful a crowded movie theatre lobby.

Ally Maki and Justin H. Min successful "Shortcomings." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

In Shortcomings' opening minutes, Park and Tomine, who wrote nan screenplay, deed america pinch Ben's many, many red flags. For one, he can't moreover dress to beryllium willing successful nan movie aliases successful Miko's activity astatine nan festival. As his and Miko's banter astir practice escalates to an all-out argument, he resorts to belittling her and calling her crazy. Later, we study that Ben has a type, and that type is "blonde achromatic women." His unwillingness to moreover talk this pinch Miko aliases understand why it mightiness put a strain connected her makes it crystal clear that this narration is connected nan rocks, and has been for a while.

So erstwhile Miko gets an internship opportunity successful New York, nan region betwixt her and Ben whitethorn beryllium conscionable what they need. They determine they're taking a break — a word almost strategical successful its open-endedness. When near to his ain devices, Ben instantly takes their separation arsenic a walk to prosecute achromatic women for illustration movie theatre worker Autumn (Tavi Gevinson) and grad student Sasha (Debby Ryan). The results are often profoundly awkward, including feigned appreciation of overly edgy creation and conversations astir fetishism and nationalist perceptions of interracial relationships. Shortcomings steers distant from immoderate clear resolutions connected these issues, contented to fto nan discussions speak for themselves.

But nan communal thread successful each these conversations is Ben, who remains a messy, often hypocritical lead whether he's attempting an ill-advised hookup aliases hanging retired pinch his champion friend Alice (Joy Ride's Sherry Cola). While he is surely not a "likable" main character, you conscionable can't look distant from him. Min's portrayal of Ben's ain marque of assholery is impervious of Shortcomings' hyper-specific characterization, thing we spot successful Alice arsenic well. And arsenic overmuch arsenic we whitethorn disagree pinch these characters' actions, we instantly admit conscionable really existent they are, and successful that way, we're capable to guidelines for them to amended themselves.

After a shaky start, Shortcomings finds its way.

A man and female look retired nan model of a java shop pinch a bluish ceramic exterior.

Sherry Cola and Justin H. Min successful "Shortcomings." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Shortcomings takes respective scenes to solidify its hit and tone, but erstwhile it does, you're successful for a slice-of-life drama that prefers understated, wince-worthy jokes to out-there laughter riots. For nan astir part, Tomine's speech is very natural, helping solidify nan film's lived-in feel. There's nary mobility that Shortcomings' champion scenes are betwixt Ben and Alice: Min and Cola volley speech successful specified an easy measurement that there's nary uncertainty these are 2 kindred spirits. Shortcomings especially picks up momentum successful nan 3rd act, erstwhile an unexpected quest unites them successful unusual circumstances.

The movie's opening suggests that Miko is nan 3rd constituent successful Shortcomings' trio of main characters, but unfortunately, she doesn't get nan aforesaid curen aliases level of specificity arsenic Ben aliases Alice. Part of this is by design: She's disconnected successful New York for astir of nan film, while nan action remains successful nan Bay Area. Yet successful her absence, she becomes a blank canvas for Ben's ain anxieties and fearfulness of change, and immoderate later statement from her, delivered passionately by Maki, sounds much arsenic a life instruction for Ben.

Despite this weakness successful characterization, Shortcomings remains an different beardown characteristic directorial debut for Park. If he were to watch Shortcomings, Ben whitethorn not needfully for illustration what it has to opportunity astir him. However, he wouldn't beryllium capable to contradict that its characters person fascinating flaws — and that winds up being nan film's superpower.

Shortcomings is now streaming connected Netflix.

UPDATE: Aug. 4, 2023, 9:47 a.m. EDT Shortcomings was reviewed retired of nan Tribeca Film Festival connected June 11, 2023.

A female successful a achromatic sweater pinch shoulder-length brownish hair.

Belen Edwards is an Entertainment Reporter astatine Mashable. She covers movies and TV pinch a attraction connected imagination and subject fiction, adaptations, animation, and much nerdy goodness.

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