‘Shortcomings’: Randall Park’s Slacker Comedy Tackles Identity and Representation
In his solo feature directorial debut, “Shortcomings,” Randall Park tells the story of an early thirtysomething’s struggle to get his you-know-what together. Park’s amusing comedy stars Justin H. Min as Ben, a Japanese-American man who finds himself at a crossroads in both his career and personal life after his longtime girlfriend, Miko (Ally Maki), leaves him behind in Berkeley, while she takes on an internship in New York.
It may be a little harsh to refer to Ben as a slacker, but he is certainly adrift. He dropped out of grad school to be a filmmaker, but now is one of those would-be auteurs who works an unsatisfactory job and craps on other people’s work. The film opens with a film-within-the-film, an obvious parody of “Crazy Rich Asians,” being screened at an Asian-American film festival. Afterwards, Ben is unable to muster up a decent complement to the filmmaker, despite the fact that Miko is the festival’s program director. Later, he complains to Miko that the film glorifies capitalism, and that representation does not matter if the film is mediocre. As for his own career, he manages an indie movie theater that is on the decline.
When we first meet Ben, he is at a point in his life where he lacks serious motivation. He is only forced to make changes after Mike announces that she is leaving town for a few months. The pair decide to take a break from their relationship, which does not come as a shock to anyone, as they seem to have been unhappy for a while. If Ben does have a true partner, it is Alice (Sherry Cola), his gay best friend who serves as a voice of reason, even if she does have her own issues that lead to her being kicked out of grad school.
While “Shortcomings” feels familiar in a lot of ways, it does contain an interesting, somewhat uncomfortable, conversation about race. Miko accuses Ben of lusting after white women, and they have an awkward conversation after she finds porn containing white ladies on his laptop. Although he admits that there is a thrill in seeking out something different, he denies preferring a white woman to her, but as soon as she is out of the picture, he pursues two of them. First, he goes after Autumn (Tavi Gevinson), a young employee at the movie theater, and then Sasha (Debby Ryan), a bisexual, or “fence-sitter,” he meets through Alice. Predictably, the problems he had with Miko and his own insecurities carry over in his relationship with the latter. Later, in an interesting twist, he sees the tables turned when he believes a white man (Timothy Simons) is fetishsizing Miko.
Ben is not a bad guy, per se, but he is not an easy character to root for either. He makes selfish choices, lacks a backbone at times, and is full of contradictions. For example, he tells Miko he does not have it in him to give a fake compliment to her colleague, but has no problem telling Autumn he loved her cringey performance art when he thinks he has a chance to get in her pants. However, the fact that Alice believes in him and sees past his flaws helps keep the viewer on his side. Again, she’s far from perfect herself, but is a genuine person, and Cola gives a great performance. Just like Alice brings out the best in Ben, Cola and Min play well off of each other. Like a lot of rom-coms, “Shortcomings” makes the case that friendships are just as, or even more important, for one’s mental health and well-being as romantic relationships. At the end of the day, the message is loud and clear that one has to work on themselves before they can enter into a healthy union.
“Shortcomings” releases Aug. 4 in select theaters.