Always Be My Maybe is a stellar addition to the Netflix original content pantheon. Granted, the streaming producer is creating so much content that it’s a. impossible to keep up with and b. bound to produce a gem, but I don’t want to undervalue how much Always Be My Maybe succeeds in a variety of ways. It’s a heartfelt and funny story with a great cast that genuinely loves and represents its characters extremely well.
I think truest to that sentiment is that unlike other Rom Coms there is no villain. Keanu Reeves is more an agent of cataclysm in his heralded “cameo” role as an amped up version of his own mythological self. Somehow the insanity of his scenes nestle nicely into the plot of this movie because neither of our main characters ever feel like they lose themselves in the exponentially heightened zaniness of his character, and Keanu serves only to make Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park) more themselves than ever.
It’s obvious that the representation of a Rom Com with a pair of Asian American leads is fantastic to see, and that their heritage is acknowledged without needing to be focal and subsequently tokenized. Beyond this, ABMM sidesteps a lot of the problematic tropes of the Rom Com genre: it’s Wong’s character who’s the successful one of the two so there’s no Cinderella/Prince Charming fantasy making her the damsel in need of rescuing. However that trope was already subverted by the 90s with the run of: successful business woman has everything but love plots that ultimately resulted in said successful woman giving up her career to be more down to Earth while the man unflinchingly rescues the damsel from her corporate trappings. The converse of this is of course the manic pixie dream girl, and the less said about that the better.
I applaud this film for nailing the final act grand gesture moments: Park’s speech is a home run, but then the movie deftly gives Wong the surprise return and she hits a grand slam in response. Adding to the profound success of the story and the characterization is that Sasha doesn’t need to change, nor does Marcus really- they both just need to listen, understand, and communicate more effectively and courageously. I strongly recommend this one to anyone in need of a few laughs and a rom com that feels delightfully down to earth. Go for Keanu, stay for the Hello Peril song inserts.
A Broader Hypothesis
I mentioned that Wong’s Sasha is a world renown chef and her character is clearly wealthy. It’s an interesting bit of class dynamic that’s only recently occurring to me, but Rom-Coms as a genre rely on at least one character to be plainly and evidently wealthy. Even if it isn’t explicitly a Cinderella story, the dates, the “getaways,” and the grand gestures? Pretty much every trope and beat of any Rom Com relies on one of the leads having wealth.
This first occurred to me revisiting Hitch a couple months ago thanks to Black Men Can’t Jump in Hollywood (spectacular podcast on diversity in Hollywood). I was looking at Will Smith’s first date involving a jet ski ride out to Ellis Island and private tour and realized in New York City to live the way he does he’s making multiple six figures. I’ve challenged multiple friends with this, and nearly every Romantic Comedy made in the last 30 years fits this bill, even if the wealth/jobs of the characters isn’t a focal point (e.g. Pretty Woman, You’ve Got Mail), at least one character if not both need to be well off to make it all fall into place for the genre (e.g. When Harry Met Sally).
The odd corollary to this is that you can have a romance with two characters who are poor, but for some reason it has to become a musical? Can’t afford jet ski dates and grand gestures at Yankees games? A choreographed song and dance number will make up for that. Seriously. La La Land, West Side Story, Moulin Rouge– if you’re rich you get fancy candlelit dinners and grand speeches, if you’re poor you get to sing and dance. Sound off in the comments if you come up with examples to the contrary.