Shortly after Berkeley Arts Cinema manager Ben (Justin H. Min, "After Yang") shows disdain for the frothy Asian romcom his girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki) is shepherding through the Pacific Asian Film Festival, then rejects her suggestive turn-in in favor of watching Criterion DVDs, she confronts him with the porn on his laptop favoring blond, blue-eyed women. When Miko informs him she’s leaving for a 3 month internship in NYC and doesn’t invite him to join her, even Ben’s best friend Alice (Sherry Cola, "Joy Ride") has to admit he has “Shortcomings.”
Laura's Review: C
‘Fresh Off the Boat’ star Randall Park makes his directorial debut with Adrian Tomine adaptation of his graphic novel and it is a lot less amusing that its trailer would suggest, a 92 minute ‘comedy’ centered on a good looking but unlikable lead learning a lesson by losing everything. At least Min, so profoundly moving as “After Yang’s” Yang, gets a chance to showcase his range and Cola, a cross between Awkwafina and Margaret Cho (aka this film’s funny), the opportunity to raise her Q score, but Park’s debut is a non-starter.
The film begins with a come on, the elaborately dressed Mrs. Wong (Stephanie Hsu, "Joy Ride") informing a hotel manager who’s turned down her request for a prestigious suite that the hotel has just been purchased by Mr. Wong (Ronny Chieng, "Joy Ride"). This “Crazy Rich Asians” riff (and mini “Joy Ride” reunion) is the film Ben turns his nose up at, angered that more stock is being given representation than cinematic quality. But Ben’s film snobbery isn’t his only problem as he appears to have his own representation problems in his sexual desires, his flirtation with his newest hire, Autumn (Tavi Gevinson, "Enough Said"), proving Miko’s last straw. The filmmakers then spend far too long proving Miko right as Ben tries to court Autumn, then clicks with Sasha (Debby Ryan, TV's 'Insatiable') until he all but declares her his white woman trophy. Things go further downhill when Alice informs him she’s also moving to NY to be with Meredith (Sonoya Mizuno, "Ex Machina") and he follows hoping to reignite his relationship with Miko. He’s in for a rude awakening.
There is nothing distinctive about Park’s production, nothing cinematic about its imagery and no one to root for except Alice, who is more of a supporting player than co-lead. The central subject of a Japanese-American man more attracted to Caucasians than other Asians isn’t explored deeply enough to make spending time with him worthwhile (and, indeed, Miko is found in NYC with ‘Veep’s’ Timothy Simons, declared a ‘rice king’ by an ironically outraged Ben). The film’s saving grace is Cola, the lesbian Korean buddy Ben beards for and becomes more human around. One last gag flips the script on the film’s thinly explored theme, but “Shortcomings” declares itself in its title.
Robin's Review: C
Sony Picture Classics releases “Shortcomings” in theaters on 8/4/23.