Adapted from the graphic novel by Adrian Tomine (who also wrote the screenplay), “Shortcomings” (Sony Pictures Classics) is actor Randall Park’s directorial debut. The movie is a kind of Asian-American “Annie Hall” in the way it looks at modern love and artistic snobbery. It’s also reminiscent of “Barbie” in the way it takes well-deserved jabs at masculinity.
Ben (Justin H. Min) attends a movie screening at the East Bay Asian American Film Festival with his girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki), who co-organized the festival. Ben, a film snob who manages an art cinema in Berkely, doesn’t care for the way the movie (featuring cameos by Stephanie Hsu and Ronny Chieng), which he describes as a “garish romcom” glorified the “capitalist fantasy of vindication through wealth and materialism.” Miko, on the other hand, is just grateful for the Asian representation onscreen. These scenes establish the rocky nature of the relationship.
Alice (Sherry Cola) is Ben’s best friend. She’s a lesbian lothario who’s earned herself a reputation in the Bay Area. Alice is funny and flirty and knows how to put Ben in his place. They have the kind of friendship where Alice asks Ben to pretend to be her boyfriend at a family wedding because she’s not out to her religious Christian family.
With things still tense between Ben and Miko, she tells him that she got an internship in New York and will be moving there for three months. Ben is shocked but does nothing to change her mind, thinking he’s being supportive. Miko leaves and Ben tells Alice that they are “taking some time off” from the relationship.
At first, he misses Miko, but then Ben starts pursuing other women, including Autumn (Tavi Gevinson), who is the new box office person at the theater. She’s also a performance artist whose work Ben finds pretentious. Then he meets Sasha (Debby Ryan, who radiates a Jennifer Lawrence energy) at a queer party he attends with Alice. Alice cautions Ben that Sasha is a “fence sitter” and a “trendy dabbler,” and not to get involved with her. Nevertheless, he does, but it doesn’t last long.
In the meantime, Alice gets temporarily kicked out of school and decides to go to New York. Ben cyberstalks Miko, who is not returning his calls. When the movie theater is forced to close after being found “structurally unsound,” Ben seizes the opportunity to go to New York and stay with Alice and her new girlfriend Meredith (Sonoya Mizuno), a writer and Barnard professor.
Wouldn’t you know it? Ben and Alice stumble upon the boutique of designer Leon (Timothy Simons) where they see pictures of Miko as one of his models. Of course, she’s more than that to Leon. Ben sets out on a mission to confront her which, given his lack of social graces with women, doesn’t go well for him.
Already a well-established actor, Park ups the ante with his skills as a director. “Shortcomings” is not only a clever modern romcom, but it also presents its queer characters with sensitivity and intelligence.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of nine books including Refrain in Light (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2023). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in South Florida with his husband Rick, and their dog Coco.