Shortcomings (2023) Review. Randall Park’s Sweet Asian American Comedy. B+

Actor-turned-director Randall Park’s debut feature “Shortcomings” (adapted by Adrian Tomine from his graphic novel) opens with a parody of ‘Crazy Rich Asians” (original cast member Ronnie Chung is delightful alongside Stephanie Hsu in the brief film-within-a-film) at an Asian-American film festival in Berkeley, California. It’s the final scene in the movie – mirroring the opening scene in “Asians” – and, as Ms. Chung informs the racist receptionist at a swanky hotel that she has just purchased the building, the primarily Asian American patrons in the audience are whooping, and hollering with delight. Not so our leading man Ben (Justin H. Min), an aesthete who runs a money-losing art cinema and drips condescension in the way that Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer/Isaac Davis just barely tolerated the lesser mortals in his circle in “Annie Hall/Manhattan.” We expect him to launch into an “Apples and Pears by Cezanne” speech at any minute, and it’s not long before we discover that his tastes run more towards Truffaut, Ozu, and Cassavetes.


In the lobby, after the movie, Ben can barely manage It’s….quite the event,” while his girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki), who works for the festival, thinks that the movie’s exposure and popularity can only be good for Asian American filmmakers. As they reach their gorgeous apartment (paid for by her wealthy father), however, we feel there is more separating Ben and Miko than just an opinion about a movie. There is an undercurrent of malaise and dissatisfaction, which comes to a point when MIko discovers Ben’s extensive porn stash, a collection of blond Caucasian women. Putting their relationship on hold, Miko leaves for a year-long internship in New York, and Ben is left to his own devices on the West Coast.

The arc that Ben’s character takes while Miko is away is seen through the eyes of his best friend Alice, a lesbian played by a marvelous Sherry Cola, and blond bisexual goddess Sasha (a superb Debby Ryan), who Ben, his porn fantasies becoming a reality, hooks up with as soon as Miko’s plane has left the runway. Park manages quite a few laughs from Ben, who is Japanese American, while Alice is Korean American. At a wedding reception, where Ben is acting as Alice’s beard (she is not and, it seems, never will be out to her family), her older relatives recognize immediately that he is of Japanese descent and, given their country’s mutual histories, shoot him death-wishing glances at every opportunity. There is also a poignant break-up scene between Ben and Sasha reminiscent of Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network,” where she tells him that the reason women don’t want to be with him has nothing to do with race, class, or taste in movies. It’s just him.


Min, playing an insufferable character, makes Ben, if not exactly likable, then undoubtedly sympathetic. For all the selfish things he does and says, we are always on his side, even when he journeys to New York, a city he hates (he’s Woody Allen in reverse), to chase down Miko and is a rude guest while staying in Alice’s new girlfriend Meredith’s (Sonoya Mizuno) apartment. There’s a funny scene with an overcompensating Timothy Simons as Leon, Miko’s new boyfriend, and a perfect dramatic scene as Ben and Miko lay bare all of the grudges they have held back over the years.

As Ben heads back to Berkeley, we feel that maybe he is the better person after his journey to New York City, and we have enjoyed being in his company.

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