By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Entertainment Reporter
In his feature film directorial debut, Randall Park has given a respectable, well-nuanced cinematic interpretation of Adrian Tomine’s self-scripted adaptation of his graphic novel, Shortcomings. As a film, Shortcomings is a low-key humorous romantic comedy that focuses on three thirty-something Asian American characters. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival as part of the US Dramatic Competition contenders.
This threesome is a modern triangle of San Francisco area friends centered on Ben Tanaka (Justin H. Min), the manager of an old art house movie theater. We first meet him as he accompanies his well-to-do live-in girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki) to an AAPI film festival. They’ve just viewed the ending scene from a film that is obviously referencing director Jon M. Chu’s 2018 adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel of the same name, Crazy Rich Asians.
Ben has problems playing nice: he can’t dredge out banal compliments when he meets the director, post-screening. To his lesbian best friend, Ph.D. candidate Alice (Sherry Cola), he complains, “I keep getting aftershock cringes.” Ben isn’t a particularly good friend to Alice. When Alice flirts with their waitress, he’s too self-involved to play wingman.
We assume that Ben is just as clueless with Miko. Ben seeingly forgot that his girlfriend Miko applied for an internship in New York. Now that she’s been accepted, Miko generously tells Ben that they can take a break from their relationship while she’s on the East Coast. It’s only three months. She doesn’t expect him to be faithful and, she tells him, not to worry about the rent check being late to her father.
Ben tries out his romantic freedom on an employee he has just hired. While Ben is fumbling with romance, we learn that Alice isn’t really cut out for academics and perhaps even polite company of any kind. Ben and Alice will end up in New York and Ben will have a confrontation with Alice that will change our perceptions of the beginning scenes.
Neither Tomine’s script nor Park’s visuals really foreshadow the ending from what I could tell and that’s a bit of a cheat. Still, under Park’s direction, the characters feel real, lived in.
Shortcomings is about flawed people finding their way through life in a messy, tangled world where there is hope, but not necessarily happy endings. Park has a good eye and rhythm, making Shortcomings a promising directorial debut. While Tomine’s graphic novel was originally published in 2007 (serialized between January 2004 – March 2007), the issues it raises are still relevant today.
According to Variety, in a deal brokered by UTA and WME, Sony Pictures Classics has acquired worldwide rights to Shortcomings following its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. A release date has not been set.
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