Sometimes, a rare gem of a movie comes along that feels very raw and intentional. Shortcomings does sometimes live up to its name, but it’s also a very thought-provoking film that just needed some polishing. You can read our full review to know why, but for now, let’s jump straight into the film. Ben and Miko have been together for six years, and lately, they get on each other’s nerves a lot more than they used to. Ben’s a very entitled man, in the sense that he thinks he knows best and wants to be different from everybody and have unique tastes. He thinks he’s above it all—race, art, film, relationships—and has no filter. In the opening act of the film, there’s a presentation of a movie made by Miko that looks very much like it came out of Crazy Rich Asians, starring Stephanie Hsu and Ronnie Chieng. On the big screen, the two show off their wealth, and it ends on a grand high that makes it seem like all Asians are rich, romantic, and “basic.” This is when things really get messed up between Ben and Miko.
What happens in the film?
Ben doesn’t leave even the smallest chance to poke fun at something that is not worthy of his appreciation. He insults Miko in front of her film friends, and soon enough, Miko decides to take a break from their relationship and move to New York for a 3-month internship. Things seemed to be way off for them, and they had been fighting with each other all the time before that. Miko’s problem isn’t that Ben didn’t like the film; it’s that he doesn’t understand the magnitude of the representation it gives Asian Americans. How many doors it opens, even for him as a budding Asian-American filmmaker. Ben complains to his bestie Alice about it, but she’s wrapped up in her own problems and doesn’t really have much to say to him. Miko would ask Ben to go to bed with her, but he’d rather spend time watching the same old movies 100 times. Ben works at an old, rickety cinema, and a new, young blonde girl named Autumn joins the team. Miko suspects Ben is immediately smitten because he has a thing for blonde-haired, blue-eyed women. All of this only contributes to Miko’s decision to leave. Immediately, Ben tries to get in Autumn’s pants, as expected. Before leaving, Miko had said that they would be on a break while she was away.
Alice is lesbian, and she’s having her own troubled family life. She pretends Ben is her boyfriend to make her family happy, but she’s seeing girls at the same time and can’t commit to anyone. The second her new fling gets clingy, she starts avoiding the restaurant Ben and she frequent to avoid the fling, a waitress there. Not only are Ben and Autumn not meant for each other, but it almost seems like they’re from two completely different universes. That doesn’t go too well for him, and he starts to miss Miko. Eventually, Alice feels pity for him and takes him to a queer party so he can just live a little and stop being so obsessed with his love life. But he ends up meeting another blonde named Sasha there. Sasha is into Ben, too, and they quickly hit it off. She had been in a relationship with a woman earlier, and they’d been broken up for the same amount of time as Ben and Miko. Just as Ben feels the stars are aligning for them, Sasha says her ex is back, and earlier, she had no idea if she wanted her back or not, so she took a chance with Ben. The cinema also announces that it is shutting down, so Ben is left with nothing for himself (Karma got you!).
In the meantime, Ben’s been constantly stalking Miko. He calls her many times, but she completely ghosts him. During this mess, Alice also gets thrown out of school because she accidentally kicked a girl. Instead of sulking around, though, she takes the opportunity and decides to move to New York, too. Ben’s left all alone, and after a lot of contemplation, depression, and self-deprecation, he even tries to get some writing done (finally, dude), but he’s totally blank. Eventually, he decides to go to New York for some time, stay with Alice, and cool off.
But it’s another day of dismay for Ben, who can’t do anything right. Yes, he’s thinking that in his head, but it’s also very true. Alice has moved on in her life, and now she’s in a serious relationship with a woman named Meredith. She’s perfect for Alice, who has finally matured and is making decisions for herself. Ben makes a mess with her, and he thinks she doesn’t like him at all, which is entirely possible because of how unlikeable he is. Ben’s harsh humor doesn’t get him anywhere anymore, and a few days into New York, he decides to make a big gesture for Miko. To his utter surprise, she’s moved on and is dating a white-looking man who is a fashion designer, speaks fluent Japanese, and does Tai Chi. She never did any internships, and Ben is left devastated but also realizes that this was always Miko’s plan. Ben and Meredith get into a huge argument over how hypocritical he is and how he thinks society views Asian men with white women differently from Asian women with white men. Ben’s a prick to Meredith, and then he notices that the pictures of Miko that were on display at the fashion designer’s store were taken in their bed back home.
Is Ben really okay?
Ben decides to ambush Miko, and her new boyfriend gives them space to talk. Ben lets out all his frustration on her, as does she. Miko tells Ben that he never sees his problems and only blames others. She was suffering in their relationship because he was relentlessly obnoxious, but at the same time, he would constantly tie her down to him. She felt liberated by moving away, even if it was based on a lie. Miko shouldn’t have left Ben that way or technically cheated on him, even if it wasn’t physical at the time. Miko moved all the way to New York for this other guy, so why not just tell Ben the truth? Still, Ben doesn’t ever take a step back, and then Miko simply realizes she doesn’t have to take his crap anymore. It’s really over for them this time, and by the time Ben gets to Meredith’s house, he’s realized he was at fault, too. When he reaches home, Meredith and Alice are arguing about him, and he finally sees what a nuisance he’s been. He apologizes to Meredith for having to see him at his lowest (dude, just accept your faults).
It happens to be Meredith’s birthday, and Alice has decided to quit school and move to New York. She can be herself out here, and Meredith is definitely the one for her. Even though Ben wants to take her back, he realizes how much this all means to her and finally lets go. Before leaving, he decides to meet Miko one last time, but seeing her so happy with the other guy, he doesn’t have the heart to ruin her mood. He leaves in peace, with white flags everywhere. On the flight back, he watches an old woman cry at the end of Miko’s film and sees how meaningful it really is. A montage of everyone’s successful lives plays out as Alice’s voice message to Ben plays over it. She tells him that she’s proud of him and that even though he’s in a very difficult spot, he’ll be able to get over it. Back home, Ben sits in front of the beautiful ocean and smiles. The end.
Well, Ben’s life may be completely in the tank at this point, but he finally sees his own shortcomings by the end of the film. This is not an overnight change, of course, and even for someone who is not a big fan of change, things eventually do change. Leaving everything else behind, Ben can probably start fresh (and probably get some therapy). He can learn some kindness and stop being the outcast school kid, not because of his race but because of how annoying he is. Finally, Ben’s grown up and will soon enough leave that kid behind.