You know what kind of movie “Always Be My Maybe” (Netflix) is, and the people who made it know what kind of movie it is, but that shared knowledge works in its favor. In this tale of two childhood besties who are soul mates but don’t realize it, Ali Wong and especially Randall Park give the types of performances where they know they’re in a movie but they let it all flow over them, from the clichés to the plentiful moments of at least mild inspiration.
The film plays like a top-shelf sitcom (not surprising, since that’s director Nahnatchka Khan’s background), but it has one thing working against it: At 101 minutes, it’s too long. While no single moment lacks competence – with Park’s befuddled look propping up any borderline material — the whole package somehow feels longer than “Avengers: Endgame.” If it was 20 minutes shorter, it might’ve been a comedy gem, but there’s something about the familiarity of the rom-com foundation that made me wish it would get to the next scene faster.
Still, Wong and Park (both of whom are co-writers, with Michael Golamco) have tremendous chemistry as Sasha Tran and Marcus Kim. They were the girl- and boy-next-door to each other as kids in San Francisco, but they’ve been out of touch for 16 years. She’s an innovative chef who’s famous worldwide; he has followed his dad’s footsteps into the family heating and air conditioning business. (The dad, by the way, is played by James Saito. Who knew the Shredder from 1990’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” had such good comedic chops?)
I would’ve liked “ABMM” to use its long run time to drive home the specialness of Marcus and Sasha’s relationship, but the “We all know what kind of movie this is” vibe quashes that notion. So does the fact that it’s light and fluffy throughout, with everyone being slightly ridiculous and delivering playful jabs about the others’ ridiculousness.
It’s never laugh-out-loud funny, but at the same time, all of the breezy humor is on point. For example, Sasha tells Marcus she feels so uncomfortable around her fiancé, Brandon (“Lost’s” Daniel Dae Kim), that she has to go to the other side of the house to fart. That’s funny, and it further illustrates the comfort level between these old friends.
The sidebar material spices up “ABMM.” Marcus is in a band, Hello Peril, that performs genuinely good novelty rap songs (written in part by Park). “I Punched Keanu Reeves,” which plays over the closing credits, is funny enough to bump my rating up a half-banana. And as we (and sometimes Marcus) follow Sasha through the glitzy circles she moves in, the film skewers high-class culture. The sequence satirizing a chic restaurant is a highlight, culminating with sugar bubbles being blown onto the table by the server for dessert.
This sequence also introduces Reeves playing “himself,” and while it can’t be as magnificent as James Van Der Beek playing “himself” for the entire run of “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23,” it’s amusing to observe a Reeves who is pretentiously out of touch with reality. (Coincidentally, Khan was a producer on “Apt. 23.”)
“ABMM” has several of these little delights, and it culminates with perhaps the biggest “We’re on the same page with the viewer” moment: the use of Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” on the soundtrack. Between each of my three sittings of watching this bizarrely endless yet never unlikable film, that song was of course stuck in my head.