For the last couple of years, Randall Park has been the best part of a lot of projects. He gained a loyal following in Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp and WandaVision, his cameo in The People We Meet At The Wedding is the funniest thing about the film, and his Netflix rom-com Always Be My Maybe is one of the finest examples of the genre in the last couple years.
It only makes sense that the actor and writer would branch out to directing. In his debut feature, Shortcomings, Park directs Adrian Tomine’s script (based on the latter’s graphic novel of the same name) with hilarity and insight. It follows Justin H. Min as Ben, a film-school dropout, who lives with his trust-fund girlfriend, Miko (Ally Maki) of six years. He’s irritable and arrogant, but there’s something sad about him that draws you in.
His best (and only friend) is Alice (Sherry Cola), an Asian Lesbian grad student, who still hasn’t come out yet to her parents and uses him as her date to fool them. He’s stuck at a dead-end job as the manager of a cinema in downtown Berkley. Though he has plenty of ideas about movies, including some choice words for Crazy Rich Asians, his own fear and self-loathing prevent him from going after his dream.
When he hires a pretty, white 23-year-old woman (Tavi Gevinson) to work at the movie theater, the already widening distance between him and Miko grows wider. After she accuses him of having a fetish for white women and not being into her anymore, they decide to take space to find themselves; her in New York and him in Berkley. Debbie Ryan, Timothy Simons, Sonoya Mizuno, and Jacob Batalon all pop up as various nuisances in Ben’s life.
Shortcomings is divided up into titled segments. Instead of one cohesive story, we get misadventures that narratively connect by a couple of threads. Besides Min’s strong performance, the film is held together by its sense of humor. With quippy dialogue and a strong point of view about pop culture, Ben’s negative attitude is charming. However, if it’s not your style, be prepared to be turned off for 90 mins. Min is giving an Asian version of Scott Pilgrim, and while that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, there is merit for a story like this to be told from this perspective.
Park’s not entirely empathetic to Min’s Ben, which the film isn’t entirely better for. Shortcomings has some tonal issues towards the end, venturing into melodrama when it doesn’t need to. Park places responsibility at Ben’s feet when it solely doesn’t belong there, but there is something to be said when a character doesn’t get full closure on the ending of something.
Overall, Shortcomings is a hilariously real character study that you’ll want to watch again and again. Randall Park and Justin H. Min make a comedically brilliant director/actor duo, with the latter playing into the drama with an expert hand. He’s not always likable, but he does counter the Asian model minority stereotype with great oeuvre.