With this film, I was so excited to see it. I love Randall Park in every performance he’s been in and was excited to see his directing. I also was looking forward to seeing Sherry Cola and Justin H. Min, as I love the work they’ve been in. The story sounded compelling, but after watching, I felt it had excellent performances, but the story falls short, leaving me wanting a more charismatic main character and a more focused core theme.
Shortcomings is a comedy drama directed and produced by Randall Park from a screenplay by Adrian Tomine. In the movie, we meet Ben, (Justin H. Min), a cynical movie theater owner. He’s dating Miko (Ally Maki), but she abruptly moves to New York City for an internship. With his relationship on a break, Ben attempts to figure out his life with the help of his best friend Alice (Sherry Cola), who doesn’t want to be tied down to one woman. Ben explores his fascination for blonde women while Sherry contemplates changes in her own life. Eventually, he has a confrontation with Miko that provides him with some of the answers he is seeking.
One of the factors that make this film shine is the cast’s performance. Justin H. Min gives a complex and emotional performance as Ben. As the typical slacker trying to figure out his life, Justin creates a performance that challenges stereotypes. The character is difficult to like, but Justin H. Min infuses him with enough charisma and emotion that Ben is understandable. He’s also a relatable character, someone who struggles with making good choices. And I think we’ve all been there. Sherry Cola excels as Alice. She is funny, bright, and warm. The chemistry between her and Justin H. Min is dynamic, and the friendship works so well to help make the characters interesting and compelling. Ally Maki as Miko is strong, and her performance is perfect for the characters, showing how exhausted she is with Ben’s cynical and negative behavior. While I would have liked more screen time with Miko, I loved her character. As a woman, I related to her the most. I also loved Jason Batalon as one of Ben’s employees at the theater, Gene. He stole most of the scenes he was in and added some humorous moments.
One of the aspects that I can see works well is the theme of the film. It is clear that in the character of Ben and his attempts to figure out his messy life, we’re being shown that everybody can have shortcomings. The film challenges stereotypes and films where Asian characters have to be perfect. In this film, none of the characters are perfect, and that is exactly the point. Randall Park does a fantastic job of illustrating this theme with the actions of Ben and Alice, and while the film is uneven at times, the theme is completely clear. The movie does a great job of showing we don’t have to be perfect, people can have flaws and imperfections, no matter who they are. And I like the exploration of cultural biases. The friendship between Alice and Ben is also handled perfectly and is one of the highlights of the film.
What I struggled with was liking Ben. Ben is cynical and negative. And while that negativity is chosen to demonstrate the flaws and imperfections of the character, it is challenging to sit through a film with that negativity and enjoy it. While the film is described as focusing on three Bay Area individuals, in truth, Ben is the main character of the movie. If the film focused more on Alice or gave us more time with Miko, it might have ameliorated some of that negative nature. While the end of the film does lighten up some of that aspect, it does make for a slower film that is hard to sit through.
I also struggled with the humor. While this is a comedy, much of the humor is either in Ben’s actions or choices. While some of that does work, some of it falls flat, especially when he is making a joke that ultimately is more mean than it is funny. While that makes the character realistic and believable, the humor doesn’t always work the best because of his nature. The best comedic moments are when Ben and Alice are interacting, and their friendship is the best element of the film.
If you do like Justin H. Min or Sherry Cola, I do recommend the film. I also thought Randall Park did an excellent job of exploring the theme of the film, shortcomings. The characters are emotional and complex while the performances shine. Justin H. Min and Sherry Cola have a fantastic dynamic together. While I did wish for more time with Ally Maki, her performance was stellar. The ending is unexpectedly one of the funniest moments in the film and is well done. If you like films that are unique and try to avoid stereotyped characters, this is one to check out. While Ben is a more challenging character, Justin H. Min does infuse the character with humanity and emotion. The film is worth seeing for all of its performances and complexity. I just wished for more focus on the other characters with more relatable humor.
Rating: 3.5 flaws out of 5.
Ben, a struggling filmmaker, lives in Berkeley, California, with his girlfriend, Miko, who works for a local Asian American film festival. When he’s not managing an arthouse movie theater as his day job, Ben spends his time obsessing over unavailable blonde women, watching Criterion Collection DVDs, and eating in diners with his best friend Alice, a queer grad student with a serial dating habit. When Miko moves to New York for an internship, Ben is left to his own devices, and begins to explore what he thinks he might want.
SHORTCOMINGS opens exclusively in theaters nationwide on August 4, 2023.
ONE-LINER: The only constant in life is (he won’t) change.