dir: Nahnatchka Khan
This is, ridiculously, one of my favourite films of the year thus far. I know it’s not over yet, many months to go, but I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I’ve seen it twice.
And the bits with Keanu, honestly, they’re the least part of it.
The film’s greatest strength, whether as a romantic comedy or whatever other phrase one might want to use to genre-fy things up, is Ali Wong and Randall Park. Both immensely funny in other stuff, both perfectly relaxed and believable here, not as a star-crossed lovers or people with monster – Viking – sexual chemistry, but just as two people who could reasonably be happiest with each other despite their myriad differences as people.
Ali Wong has made two Netflix stand-up specials, both while heavily pregnant, that constitute two of the funniest stand up specials I’ve ever seen, on any format. She has a phenomenal energy and delivery, and great skills as a teller of her own tale, and fiercely feminist to boot. Randall Park is naturally funny in anything, can do sitcom stuff with relative ease, played a monstrous dictator and still made that funny as a demented Kim Jong-Un in The Interview, and can play this role here as Marcus comfortably as putting on old sneakers.
Sasha and Marcus, growing up as kids in San Francisco, bond over being Asian-Americans in a predominately whitebread town though they’re not from the same backgrounds. Sasha is also something of a latchkey kid who never sees her hardworking Vietnamese parents, and so she spends even more time with Marcus than friends would. In Marcus’s Korean mum Judy (Susan Park) she gets an adoptive mother, and the comfort and love that comes from regular feeding. From Judy she further picks up a deep love of making quality Korean food.
Up until they are spotty teenagers in their late teens, and Marcus’ mum dies unexpectedly, they’ve been close friends, but grief and a need for something else leads them to having sex for the first time. The awkwardness and the vulnerability, and the stupid stuff people say at that age afterwards, drives them far apart.
Forever. No, actually, there’s no film that way. They reconnect later in life, in their mid-30s, maybe later, through happenstance. Sasha is a celebrity chef, opens restaurants all over the place, and wears the coolest most iconic glasses anyone has ever worn in any film ever not called Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Marcus is… Marcus lives with his widower dad, still in San Fran, and has a decent job as a tradie. He also plays in a band, doing his electro / rap stylings in a band called Hello Peril, a play on that despicable term of anti-Asian fearmongering of years gone by, at small venues. He’s not doing that badly, really. The film keeps implying he’s living in some kind of funk, or that he could be doing far more with his life. Mostly, it’s used to contrast with Sasha’s celebrity – level successes, and, honestly, wouldn’t most of us look like deadbeats compared to that?
The truth is, sure, she’s out of his league financially or class-wise, but so what? Most of us guys on this planet have always been lucky enough to have partners way, way out of our league, and yet somehow we keep on keepin’ on, or fall in love, or whatever. Class or the lack thereof doesn’t always dictate what our hearts and other parts yearn for.
Sasha, at the same time is shown as living in the kind of apartment / lifestyle that wouldn’t have been out of place in Crazy Rich Asians. Her superfit and handsome fiancé (Daniel Dae Kim) is glossy but there’s something missing, some fundamental lack in their dynamic that makes her sigh and wonder about her life.
The confusion about her life, at least her romantic life, isn’t mirrored by her professional life. She is very successful and incredibly driven, very sure of her abilities not only as a chef but as the kind of entrepreneur that can juggle the myriad logistics that go into running multiple restaurants, something which I imagine is immensely difficult, with no margin of error, because then you end up a bankrupt like Jamie Oliver. Shame, shame, shame.
When they reconnect there’s the awkwardness from how they left things, but there’s also the familiarity, the shared history, the resurgence of feelings, the wondering whether…
And just when it feels like the time might be right, like maybe they’re both in the right place in their lives to be with each other, Of Course Sasha has sex with Keanu Reeves.
Not an actor playing Keanu Reeves, not Keanu Reeves playing a character, but Keanu fucking Reeves himself. It’s so fucking strange, and pretty funny, because Keanu himself is so much bigger than any role he’s played, it doesn’t matter or mean anything that he’s been horribly wooden in so many of those roles.
You would have to wonder, would it be possible for Keanu Reeves to fuck up playing Keanu Reeves. I don’t think he exactly nails it, but he does a good enough job. Keanu (in this film) is every bit as charming and strange as the papers claim he is, and utterly horrible in a staggering way. No wonder Marcus feels insecure around him. Even his own horrible activist girlfriend (Vivian Bang) wants Keanu, as indeed we are meant to believe that every woman in this film’s universe, and probably some of the men too.
This isn’t serious, like, that part of the movie is impossible to take seriously, but it’s a lot of fun (despite Marcus’s pathetic glowering, and the way he lashes out) and doesn’t detract from the primary relationship or take up too much screen time. After all, it’s about Sasha and Marcus, and whether they can allow enough space in each other’s lives for the other.
Sasha is so driven that it’s not often clear whether Marcus is that important to her, which is kind of refreshing. The easiest trope and laziest that’s oft repeated is someone saying “I can’t live without you, I didn’t want to admit it, but I must run to your wedding / the airport just before you leave or the rocket ship that’s about to leave for Mars to prove it within an arbitrary time frame” as a grand gesture that’s meant to punctuate everything. It’s absurd.
When Sasha and Marcus finally hook up, he’s surprised when she continues to manage her plans for the grand opening of her New York restaurant. It’s almost like “I can’t believe you are continuing with your life and ambitions after we had sex. I thought you’d abandon all that stuff and stay with me in my bedsit in San Francisco, the place where you lived as a child and couldn’t wait to get away from.”
Seriously, Marcus? Really? In truth there are sections of this flick where the main character’s actions and sour reluctance to move on lead him to do and say some fairly hurtful things, but we’re also meant to sympathise with his arrested development, his being stuck in place since his mother died and since Sasha left.
I will say I do sympathise with his grief, and with being stuck in amber and not wanting to move on, but that doesn’t make him any less of an arsehole in much of the film (the character not the actor) When he does come to his senses, it does of course require him to humiliate himself in public on the red carpet, but it’s all fine, because Sasha was always the woman with a plan. I won’t spoil the ending but it’s a beautiful way to tie up both character’s path back to each other, and to their shared history, and their hopeful future.
This is the kind of rom com I can easily support and loudly celebrate: it doesn’t require the characters to be idiots in order to work, and there’s a surprising maturity to the story (at least on Sasha’s side of the story). It’s raucously funny in places that (excluding the Keanu bit) is reliant on the characters themselves and not on the cliché gay neighbour / sidekick or the hyper-competent executive assistant (though that cliché trope heavily pregnant character of Vivian, played by Michelle Buteau steals most if not every one of her scenes). Even the guy playing Marcus’s dad is great as a bit of a player, as someone who loves his son but is saddened by the fear he hasn’t been able to help him overcome.
I genuinely, thoroughly enjoyed this flick, and Marcus’s song about punching Keanu Reeves, and I will probably watch it a couple more times throughout the year. Many rom coms come out. Let’s be honest, few of them are worth our time or hearts. This is sharp and funny and touching and wonderful, and shows what a force Ali Wong is and how she should get all the roles in everything all the time. Full stop. Oh and Randall Park should get lots of work too.
8 reasons that as charming as they say he is there’s probably plenty of people including Hugo Weaving who would want to punch Keanu Reeves in the face out of 10
“Welcome to Burger King. Flame grilling since 1954. Can I interest you in a Whopper? You can get it to go if you wanna eat it in your car and cry.” – thanks and I will get fries and some tissues with that – Always Be My Maybe