Asian American stories in Hollywood have been heavily commercialized for the past few years. To break through the white barrier stopping these stories from simply existing, they needed to be sugar-coated with a lot of universal appeal. While Crazy Rich Asians was a very cliche film, no one can deny how many barriers it broke down. While it’s still not the easiest to get an AAPI film green-lit, we are slowly but surely getting there, and Shortcomings is a phenomenal step forward. The film follows three friends – pessimistic asshole and film school dropout Ben (Justin H. Min), seize the moment yet terrible at communication Miko (Ally Maki), and a lesbian with commitment and anger issues Alice (Sherry Cola). All three navigate breakups, job changes, and just plain ol’ fucked up lives that force them to change.
Aside from this being Randall Park’s directorial debut and an adaptation of Adrian Tomine’s graphic novel of the same name, the main thing that drew me in immediately was just how much of an asshole protagonist Ben is. As much of a dick as he is, the drastic shift from a charming, likable protagonist that’s insanely handsome and insanely rich was a breath of fresh air. Ben is not meant to be likable, and that’s the whole point. We meet him at a point in his life when everything changes, and he’s falling apart. Only through this experience he’s forced to change and grow.
I love Justin H. Min to pieces, so the fact that I wanted to punch him in the face countless times throughout this film shows how good he is. Sherry Cola is phenomenal as always, bringing ease to her performance that connected deeply. The rest of the ensemble cast is also incredibly solid, highlighting a time in Ben’s life and how much he refuses to see himself as the problem in any situation.
Randall Park’s directorial debut showcases just how much heart he can bring to a project and how we can tell stories about the Asian American experience in a modern way where characters are just going through the motions of life in the most normal and grounded of ways. This is simply real life, and we were getting to watch it unfold through an open window.
A lot of what goes down in the film stems from Ben’s pessimistic attitude bleeding into the people around it, and it’s only after they leave him behind and move away for a while that they find themselves and grow as people. Ben’s got a lot of issues, most prominently his internalized racism and problems with the diaspora that he’s made everyone else’s problem because he can never be wrong about something and everything, and everyone is out to get him. The constant victim mentality has stunted his emotional and personal growth. The only way for him to finally get a reality check is to lose everything to be alone and thus be forced to face himself.