Film Review: Shortcomings
Director: Randall Park
Topic Studios and Tango Entertainment
In Theaters: 08.04
If you’re looking for a cute and cheerful, formulaic romantic comedy to see this weekend, Shortcomings, the directorial debut from actor Randall Park, is almost exactly not the movie you’re looking for. However, If you want to laugh-a-lot at a film with great dialogue and wry, cynical truths, it’s the perfect choice.
Shortcomings introduces us to Japanese American Ben Tanaka (Justin H. Min, The Umbrella Academy, After Yang) and his girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki, The Big Door Prize) in Berkeley, California. Ben is a struggling filmmaker who manages a local movie theater, and Miko works for a local Asian American Film festival. Their complex relationship is punctuated by frequent arguments (“You see? That’s what you do! You act like an asshole and then you get mad at me for calling you one!”), and when Miko receives an internship opportunity in New York, she takes it, and the couple take a break, leaving Ben alone to focus on pursuing his rut full-time.
This means watching DVDs, obsessing over blond women and hanging out with his snarky Korean friend, Alice (Sherry Cola, Joy Ride), a lesbian who hasn’t come out to her family and occasionally uses Ben as a beard. As Ben navigates life without Miko, he is forced to explore what exactly he wants out of life and whether his own caustic persona may be the biggest thing holding him back.
Author and cartoonist Adrian Tomine has adapted Shortcomings from his own graphic novel, and it’s one of the most relentlessly funny screenplays in recent years. Tomine’s biting wit is at times crass, frequently tangential and always real. There’s a lot going on here in terms of observational commentary, whether it’s about relationships, arrested development or cultural identity politics (when Ben and Alice argue over which of them grew up more isolated as an Asian-American, Ben quips “Did you see my high school yearbook? It looked like a Mormon modeling agency.”). Park is a strong hand behind the camera, making use of his own background as an actor to get relaxed and engaging performances that all complement one another rather than letting any one person pull too much focus. Despite Ben’s aimlessness, Park’s pacing is focused and on point, making Shortcomings fly by so quickly you’ll wish there was more.
Min gives a breakout performance as Ben, one of the most lovable and realistically unlikable characters in recent memory. Ben uses sarcastic humor and a sense of superiority as defense mechanisms to mask his own insecurities, and even as they may stunt his relationships, seeing these play out is maddening and deliciously relatable. Cola gets a lot of laughs, and Maki walks away with the film’s single best moment as she finally hits Ben with a comment to which he has no pithy comeback. Jacob Batalon (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Debby Ryan (Jessie) and Tavi Gevinson (Person to Person) all have laugh-out-loud moments in supporting roles.
Shortcomings, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2023, is a bright, comic gem full of insight and reflection—a winning showcase for a lead performance that deserves to launch a star career. If you’re looking for a small, quirky indie flick that’s never boring and provides at least as much entertainment value as the big guns from the major studios, Shortcomings is a film that thankfully fails completely to live up to its title. –Patrick Gibbs