“Shortcomings” is a story about two young Asian Americans who have a relationship, but not an ideal one. At least, that’s from Ben’s (Justin H. Min) point of view because he can’t find happiness no matter who he’s with.
All he sees are faults in people, not their differences being a positive thing. He pushes the boundaries of the one woman he professes to care about, his girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki), so much so that she has no choice but to leave him behind. He acts as though he doesn’t want her to go, but her behavior gives him an excuse for his own actions.
The film is based on cartoonist Adrian Tomine’s 2007 graphic novel. Tomine also wrote the script. It’s directed by actor Randall Park. I’ve loved Park in almost everything I’ve seen him in. He has been in Ant-Man and the Wasp, Trainwreck, Aquaman and Long Shot, to name a few. Here, he makes his directorial debut. The film could be better, dialogue being its most significant issue. It could be better if you compared it to what he has done as an actor. The trailer pulled me in but didn’t give what it promised.
The story is about a struggling filmmaker named Ben. His girlfriend works for a local Asian American film festival and supports his work. I really liked that the beginning of this film opens at the end of Ben’s movie. A great idea, but still, this is not a top-of-the-line film. I’d like to see if Tomine’s going to write a film again in the future. I’d see it. But with this script, he and Park have Ben so painfully repellant at times that not a soul in the audience cheers for him. You don’t like him from the word “Action!”
Pushing people away is what Ben does with expert skill. His girlfriend is sweet and caring and loves him to pieces. The one flaw he holds against her, no matter their rapport (which he’s ruining), is that she isn’t white. Miko starts paying attention to his preferences. His porn, people he talks to and hires at the theater. Ben likes white women, perhaps preferring white people to his own. He professes otherwise, but his actions prove he has a problem with being Japanese, not anyone else. Being with a white woman isn’t going to change who he is. Some therapy may be needed for that.
Miko thinks it’s time to take a break and moves to New York for an internship. They call and text on occasion. That’s all they’ve been doing these days, anyway. We all want Miko, and anyone near him, to run in the opposite direction, leaving him until he learns what it’s like to be a grownup.
Speaking of being a grownup, he spends much of his time with his bestie, Alice, a young Korean woman. She dresses like she’s fifteen and speaks about the same. She’s played by Sherry Cola, who was magnificent in the recent movie Joy Ride. Hoping to pass him off as her boyfriend to her family, Cola has a line reminding Ben that he has to play Korean. She reminds him that his people (Japanese) raped and pillaged her people (Korean), so for the night, he’s not Japanese. Her grandfather is suspicious of him, disliking him instantly.
Cola’s the best part of the movie, and from this point on, she isn’t going to stop working. She can turn on the charm and the amusement and downplay it just as quickly to affect the mood of any scene.
Anyway, Alice isn’t exactly a grownup herself. She needs and enjoys the fact that she has someone to be miserable with. Alice is a queer grad student trying to find “the one” but is too immature to know when good friends and lovers practically smack her in the face with that love. She finally ups her game of needing a “beard” to hide who she is. She also accepts that love can and does exist. Ben continues to blame everything except himself for his troubles. Alice attempts to advise him. She tells him to look inside himself for issues he needs to deal with. He needs to help and count on himself. Regardless, she lets him know that his best friend will still be there for him if he needs her. She’s the best thing to happen to Ben and the best cast member Parker could have chosen.
Directed by: Randall Park
Written by: Adrian Tomine
Starring: Justin H. Min, Sherry Cola, Ally Maki, Debby Ryan, Tavi Gevinson, Sonoya Mizuno, Jacob Batalon, Timothy Simons
Run Time: 1h 32m
Genres: Romance, Comedy, Drama, Lgbtq+
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Production Co: Tango Entertainment (II), Roadside Attractions, Topic Studios, Picture Films, Imminent Collision