By Sophia Hsu
Photos courtesy of Netflix
Something comes over me when I see humans, especially children, celebrating heritage and culture. My eyes tear up, and my nose starts to run. I think, in some small way, my soul is trying to express utter contentment and joy. My eyes were on-the-verge-of-tears for most of the movie when I was not all-out crying. I tried my best to keep my expectations reasonable and in check before seeing the move, but as the date neared, I could not contain my hopes and dreams for this all Asian-American-led romantic comedy.
My love of romantic comedies is overt, unabashed, and has persisted since childhood from the very first time I watched John Hughes’ “Pretty in Pink” on a Saturday afternoon network broadcast preceded by the ubiquitous warning, “This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen and edited for content.” I almost never saw myself, or my friends for that matter, in the romantic leads, in their backgrounds, or in their stories. These rom-coms still made me long to find that one human who looked at me like Blane looked at Andie, the one who made me feel invincible, the one who just got me and felt like home. And yet, those movies left me wanting more. I wanted to see characters who looked kind of like me and struggled with some of the same culture clashes I did like filial piety and saving face while growing up in America.
“Always Be My Maybe” is that childhood dream come true. The movie exceeded my lofty expectations. It was 100% rom-com without feeling formulaic. The characters looked like my friends and me. They grew up the way I did with the same struggles of living between cultures. I now have new vocabulary to use as reference. Sasha and Marcus have replaced Andie and Blane as my canonical rom-com allusions. Even the soundtrack closely mimicked what my friends and I listened to in high school (thank you Ms. Carey) and college. I felt seen. I felt represented.
The writing paid attention to so many details that I loved. Food is one of my favorite ways to celebrate heritage, and they made food a sizeable part of the movie and managed to throw in the age-old struggle between authenticity and innovation. We do not have to have thick accents to be authentic. The parents were free from caricatured accents and limited English proficiency. We are not the poster children for the Model Minority. No one was a doctor, lawyer, or accountant. The parent-child relationships were so real and raw. Resenting the parents who worked around the clock to give their child a better life, that long-rooted anger was visceral for me. We are not all Chinese. Sasha has a Vietnamese background, and Marcus has a Korean background. We are American, and we are diverse. We can be “dirty” hippies, chic restaurateurs, awkward B-boys, dude bros, eccentric artists, foul-mouthed fashion plates, and anything else we want to be. We are also capable of being all of those people and continue to respect our heritages and cultures.
This rom-com is everything I wished for ever since I heard the orchestral music swell at the beginning of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s “If You Leave”. Ms. Wong, Mr. Park, and the whole cast and crew, you have made something iconic. Watch “Always Be My Maybe” on Netflix today.