Shortcomings review — Laughs, loathing mix for an unusually good time

Directed by Randall Park | Written by Adrian Tomine, adapting his own graphic novel | 92 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | On Demand

Here’s a knowing, self-aware comedy that plays with the conventions of the genre while also serving as a sharp look at creativity, identity, and representation, specifically amongst urban Asian-Americans. Actor-turned-Amazon-pitchman Randall Park (Always Be My Maybe) somehow has also found time in his schedule to direct his first feature film, and full marks to him and award-winning comic book creator Adrian Tomine for delivering a picture that feels both familiar and fresh.

It starts by taking a shot at Crazy Rich Asians with something very much like it. Ben (Justin H Min) and his girlfriend, Miko (Ally Maki), emerge from the audience of a popular new romcom with an Asian cast. Ben, a frustrated screenwriter who manages a single-screen rep cinema in Berkeley, isn’t a fan. Ben’s intelligent and intense, lover of a more sophisticated brand of cinema and plenty judgmental of what he sees of Asian culture sucking up to the white mainstream.

That judgment extends to the dating world. When Miko goes to New York for a three-month internship she and Ben put their relationship on pause. Ben starts pursuing women much to amusement of his lesbian friend, Alice (Sherry Cola, terrific), who matches his caustic wit beat for beat. Theirs is the central and funniest relationship in the film.

Ben isn’t being honest with himself or anyone else about his attraction to white women and at the same time is super-judgy of Asian women who go out with white guys, immediately assuming a fetishization situation. He hires a much younger white woman, Autumn (Tavi Gevinson), a performance artist, to join his theatre’s staff. He’s critical of her artwork but he obviously still wants to sleep with her. Then he meets another blonde, Sasha (Debby Ryan), and we start to see the pattern in his behaviour.

It’s pretty clear that Ben, while being bright and charming, is an asshole. The script and Min’s performance walk a fine line between riding on his wicked humour and painting him as he is, insecure and self-hating. That’s a delicate game — it would be easy to alienate the audience altogether if we didn’t like him, but while he says stupid and even hateful things the picture centres on his eventual growth. When Alice decamps to New York and meets a possible longterm partner there, Meredith (Sonoya Mizuno), it forces Ben to come to terms with the wreckage of his own relationship. It’s a painful journey for him though, thankfully, less so for us.

Despite the script’s cleverness, Shortcomings doesn’t entirely ring true. Park’s inexperience as a filmmaker shows occasionally in his direction, a few clunky scenes seem forced where the humour could’ve used a little more time to breathe. I also wondered why it was every apartment we enter in both California and New York is a multi-million dollar pile. The first is owned by Miko’s off-screen father, fair enough, but the others never seem realistic for the jobs these people have — unless it’s just another extended joke about Crazy Rich Asians.

The picture does make room for a few more meta-gags that land right on the money, including a great one by Jacob Batalon who plays another staffer at Ben’s cinema, referencing where we also know him from.

Overall, this is largely a treat — a solid mix of laughs and thoughtful commentary upending the form of a romcom while still doing a decent job delivering one.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.