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Review: Randall Park Swings For the Fences in Directorial Debut 'Shortcomings'

"Just because I'm a hypocrite doesn't mean I'm wrong."

Actor Randall Park takes on directing duties in the new movie, "Shortcomings," in select theaters starting August 4th. Debuting at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, the movie depicts a young couple's life in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ben (Justin H. Min) lives semi-happily with his girlfriend, Miko (Ally Maki). Frustrated with the state of Asian representation both in film and in real-life relationships, Ben is an infuriatingly hypocritical narcissist who happens to own the Bay Area's most dilapidated independent movie theater. After accepting a once-in-a-lifetime offer to work in New York City for a few months, Miko asks Ben for a break while the two attempt to figure out adulting.

Ben's saving grace is his best friend Alice (Sherry Cola in yet another scene stealer after her comedic work in this summer's "Joy Ride"), a woman on a mission to find happiness while hiding her sexuality from her conservative parents. Ben's trip down singledom lane is met with obstacles from a misunderstood employee (Tavi Gevinson) he lusts after. He also finds himself flirting with an attractive woman (Debby Ryan) at a party, which might lead to bigger things down the road. Despite promising love interests thrown in Ben's direction, his annoying personality and race-baiting get in his way. Unlucky in love and losing friends left and right, Ben is not the hero audiences want to root for, but Park has served him on a silver platter.

"Shortcomings" is a valiant effort from Randall Park, who has cut his teeth in comedy and the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the years, promoting a badass persona on and off screen that boasts talent as a working actor. Frequently aware of his minority status as an Asian American, Park has taken on many roles in recent years that highlight his background, like "Fresh Off the Boat" and "Always Be My Maybe." While he isn't the focal point on the screen in "Shortcomings," it's clear that the graphic novel turned film showcases some of Park's views on Asian representation in liberal America. This is skillfully outlined by a surprising take on "Crazy Rich Asians" in the movie's opening sequence, making fun of the 2018 film's mainstream popularity and, subsequently, Ben's response to a major studio film featuring a predominantly Asian cast.

Much of "Shortcomings" focuses on Ben and his strong viewpoints on race and cultural appreciation, while his romantic interests tend to be white women. Ben's awkward juxtaposition of depressed confidence makes him a character to be feared while retaining a bit of humility. His lack of understanding of the world around him doesn't do him any favors, and the character bogs down Adrian Tomine's script that is otherwise worth exploring. He's too unlikable to care what happens to him, and by the end of the film, his willingness to change gets lost in the mix.

Even though the main character of this Bay Area odyssey leaves little to be desired, Park's vision comes to life in the form of Sherry Cola's Alice. Cola brings a sense of humor to everything she does, drawing from her stand-up comedy philosophy and ensemble projects. Ben is meant to be obnoxious, yet I found him to be downright repulsive for most of his trajectory. Alice's storyline is much more interesting as she traverses being in the closet amongst disapproving family members while trying to sustain a blossoming relationship with a woman who might just be "the one."

The ingredients for constructing a splendid indie project like "Shortcomings" are all there: A strong cast, impressive dialogue, a love of art, and a talented director willing to bring his own life experiences into his first feature film. While Ben might be an irritating character to root for, Sherry Cola's presence in the movie more than makes up for any side steps the script takes.

Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟


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