Directed by Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 and Fresh Off the Boat creator Nahnatchka Khan, it makes some sense that Always Be My Maybe feels like an abbreviated version of a sitcom series. The first season/act is a loose mess still trying to find its footing; the arrival of a bigger star in season/act two helps find its groove; and by the third run, we’re already getting unduly if nicely dramatic with it, finishing up the romantic arc just in case there’s an early cancelation.
Also like a sitcom: Always Be My Maybe is based around the most clichéd of situations. Comedian co-stars and co-writers Randall Park and Ali Wong play awkward teenage sort-of-sweethearts who, after a series of flashbacks, now fill the classic model of a rough-around-the-edges guy ready to bring a tense, career-obsessed woman back down to earth as she helps him realize his inner talent. He’s an HVAC guy dating an unbearable hippy and working for and taking care of his dad (James Saito, the Shredder of 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who steals a few scenes in his cheerfully, affably lost way); she’s a celebrity chef engaged to a chiseled douche (Daniel Dae Kim) who wants to take a break before their marriage. The romantic arc to come is fairly obvious.
In other words, Always Be My Maybe is often pretty hacky, straining an obvious, poorly-edited build-up through a first half punctuated by only a handful of solid laughs. Thankfully, once again appearing as the immortal savior of a meme he’s become, Keanu goddamn Reeves appears to save this thing like it’s a rescue dog.
Reeves slightly-more-than-cameos as himself at almost exactly the film’s midpoint, playing a deadpanned satire of the Hollywood asshole we all pray he isn’t. As much the boogeyman of this comedy as he is to the world of assassins, he disappears abruptly, yet his essence resonates. From Reeves’s entrance to the film’s end, Always Be My Maybe becomes a different film—a far tighter, funnier effort that makes the preceding 54 minutes stand out as an unrefined adolescence to rival its leads.
Early on in Always Be My Maybe, Wong’s Sasha Tran is displeased with her chef’s take on her food, saying, “These are supposed to be vegetable dumplings, okay? Not lemongrass testicles. Let’s smooth the wrinkles out.” If only the film as a whole had heeded that advice, smoothing out its loose sack into the smooth if basic pleasure it eventually becomes. Its first act’s easygoing nature indeed gives a few earnest moments between its already-amiable leads, but it’s the back half that reveals the real chemistry between the stars and their writing. Skip the first season and they’ve got a pretty decent little sitcom.
Always Be My Maybe
Director: Nahnatchka Khan
Runtime: 102 minutes
Cast: Ali Wong, Randall Park, Michelle Buteau, Keanu Reeves, Daniel Dae Kim, Karan Soni, James Saito, Charlyne Yi, Lyrics Born