Shortcomings is an Assured and Outstanding Debut by Randall Park
Sundance 2023: Shortcomings Review
This romantic comedy with some bite adapts Adrian Tomine’s graphic novel and provides a compelling look at Asian-American identity.
Shortcomings, the new directorial debut from actor Randall Park, tries to do two specific things, and it succeeds wildly at both of them. It wants to present a slightly skewed version of the romantic comedy genre, complete with a healthy amount of cynicism, and it wants to make a statement about Asian-American identity in America today. It succeeds at both in a way that’s entertaining all the way through.
The film is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Adrian Tomine, who also wrote the screenplay; it’s the kind of story that’s likely autobiographical or at least inspired by an earlier, less-enlightened version of the author’s life. It’s a witty script that packs a lot into 90 minutes, with a fantastic cast full of rising stars.
Essentially, it’s (500) Days of Summer, only with a mostly Asian cast, and if the movie had been more upfront about its hero being a selfish jerk. There’s even a fake out at the end that I enjoyed so much that I practically applauded. I also appreciated the lack of easy redemption.
The film has something very specific to say about the Bruce Lee scene in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and also about Crazy Rich Asians, with a couple arguing about whether it represents a triumph of representation or something much worse.
The couple, both Asian-American and living in the East Bay, is Ben and Miko (Justin H. Min — the titular robot from last year’s Sundance triumph After Yang — and Ally Maki.) He runs a failing repertory movie theater in Berkeley, while she’s one of the programmers of a film festival. They seem to have various long-running disagreements, with her suspecting that he prefers white women.
He hashes this out with his best friend (the scene-stealing Sherry Cola), a lesbian who asks him to pose as her boyfriend, so she doesn’t have to come out to her conservative parents (The Freeform show Good Trouble, on which Cola is a regular, had a nearly identical plot.)
There’s a mid-plot shift of the action to New York, and other love interests drift in and out, played by the welcome likes of Tavi Gevinson, Sonoya Mizuno, and Tiffany Simons, whose brief turn delivers some of the film’s most solid laughs. There’s even a brief but welcome cameo by newly minted Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu.
Shortcomings eventually circles to the point that Ben is kind of an ass, that he’s being unfair, and that he probably doesn’t deserve to enjoy the company of any of these beautiful women. That the film specifically makes him a film bro is not very much not an accident.
Last year’s TIFF film I Like Movies was another that featured a young male movie snob who might have been the hero if the same movie had been made 15 or 20 years earlier, but this time was clearly something of a jerk who has serious issues with women.
Randall Park has been a welcome presence across movies and TV for more than 20 years, in everything from Fresh Off the Boat to WandaVision. With Shortcomings, he shows he has serious promise as a director.
There’s no word yet on release plans for the film, which comes from Topic Studios and Roadside Attractions.
The 2023 Sundance Film Festival takes place from January 19th to 29th. Find all our coverage here.