Randall Park’s debut feature, Shortcomings, is an adaptation of a popular graphic novel of the same name. It portrays the experiences of Asian Americans in the most realistic and down-to-earth scenarios. With flawed characters, terrible relationships, and unhappy people, the film covers all bases. Because I watched Past Lives first and absolutely devoured it, I was left a little underwhelmed by Shortcomings. Not to compare the two films, but there’s a sense of commonality in the way they present immigration and just the feeling of being lost as Asian American adults.
Shortcomings is essentially a character study of Ben (not the one from Umbrella Academy), a struggling filmmaker who is at a low point in his life in terms of interpersonal relationships. His best friend, Alice, may be the only other person who can understand him and empathize with him without judging his behavior. Ben’s journey of self-awareness begins when his long-term girlfriend decides to take a break from the relationship. They’ve been fighting for a while, and she makes the most rational decision she can, leaving Ben to fend for himself. Ben is a peculiar individual in the sense that he never acknowledges his own mistakes and always blames others for his wrongdoings. When he’s left alone, he self-deprives and ends up being an even bigger tool for everyone around him.
The one big flaw in Shortcomings is that there are a lot of small things that get addressed in the relatively short 90-minute film, and every time it feels like this is the main event, it ends up being just a steppingstone to the next. It’s almost like many small skits put together, and the film is even divided into parts with colorful title cards to separate them, which really adds to this feeling. It definitely seems like a very personal film in many ways, hence the comparisons to Past Lives, and at the same time, just a little bit all over the place. I guess that’s how the human mind is, but the fickleness doesn’t translate well on screen.
What I truly appreciate about Shortcomings is how real the characters feel and how well performed the film is. There are just so many quotable dialogues that make the film humorous. Given that the film relies so heavily on the actors’ performances, we must talk about the cast, of course. Justin H. Min is iconic as the obnoxious, self-absorbed prick of a character, Ben. Still, after having all of those really annoying qualities and being such an inherently dislikeable character, there’s some ease in the way the man plays him that makes you feel empathetic towards him. It’s almost as if you feel his feelings just through his little smirks and hand gestures. That’s not to say that Ben isn’t the worst kind of film, bro. He thinks his taste is elevated, that his opinions are absolute, and that anything that is remotely enjoyable to the masses, aka women and girls, is worthless.
Miko, on the other hand, is doing the best she can in her position. She’s trying to be successful in the film industry by appealing to larger audiences, even if that means creating stereotypical films. There’s this whole thing about Crazy Rich Asians in this film that really puts things into perspective and explains why that film was such a big deal for anyone watching. Ally Maki is great as Miko, the girlfriend who is picking up on her mistakes in life. Miko is likeable, and even though Shortcomings revolves around Ben, you kind of root for Miko. On the other hand, Alice, the queer bestie, who is a hypocrite who’s always right (her words) and is played by Sherry Cola, is an absolute delight to watch. She’s got great comic timing, and her banter with Ben is exactly what a straightforward film like this one needs. There’s a lot of negativity in Ben that Alice somehow manages to cancel out. They truly make a great pair, even if they cause chaos together. Ben and Alice are like two sides of the same coin, but what makes them different is that Ben always blames the world for his shortcomings, whereas Alice sees her own rather quickly.
If Julie really was The Worst Person in the World, Ben is stiff competition. Visually, the film is wonderful, and I love the way it plays with stereotypes, not just among the Asian community but also among the white community that fetishizes them. Shortcomings excels at poking fun at itself, which is why it’s a really enjoyable film. Given the context, the film could’ve turned out really boring or, worse, depressing too. With such a lost character as the main focus of your film, it’s really difficult to steer clear of the sadness that the character emits, but Randall Park manages that really well with the humor and pacing.
Shortcomings is a really well-made and well-performed film, but where it fails is in the little cuts and the connectivity of the script. Because of this, it doesn’t have a deep emotional impact on the viewer. Of course, that doesn’t mean that that is the end goal of the film or its makers; it’s just something I noticed about it. I would definitely recommend shortcomings, especially to skeptical individuals who may feel like they’re looking into a mirror, i.e., Ben. I don’t think it’s the kind of movie I’d watch again, but it’s definitely something I’d love to discuss with my peers. As someone who’s not a part of the culture explored in the film, I may not relate to everything in it, but it definitely puts a lot of things into perspective, making one contemplate them. That’s reason enough to watch such a film. The film has mild explicit scenes, some profanity, and some adult jokes. I’d give shortcomings 3.5 out of 5 stars. I’m not going to say I loved it, but I definitely liked it!