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Review: ‘Always Be My Maybe’ just plain works

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Stars of “Always By My Maybe” Ali Wong and Randall Park also co-wrote and produced the film.

This week, many of us will second-guess Netflix’s decision to add beguiling romantic comedy “Always Be My Maybe” to its lengthy menu tomorrow after a very limited release in theaters that just began yesterday.

Did it deserve better — a “Big Sick”-type treatment? Or is this just the way things are going to be?

Either way, it’s a film that just plain works.

Stars Ali Wong and Randall Park co-wrote the film with Michael Golamco; they also produced. Debut feature film director Nahnatchka Khan has worked for several years now with Wong and Park on the ABC-TV series “Fresh Off the Boat.” They’ve all had a while to develop the sort of movie they wanted to make.

Much of the material is predictable, though it’s handled deftly. But in significant ways, it wryly, cleverly deviates from rom-com norms.

These filmmakers make it look easy.

Set in San Francisco, it’s a couple of lanes over storywise from Nora Ephron’s perpetually imitated “When Harry Met Sally…”

Friends and next-door neighbors since grade school, Sasha and Marcus grow up with an easy rapport. Sasha’s parents are rarely around; Marcus loses his mother in an accident (barely glanced upon early on) at a young age, which tightens his bond with his heating-and-cooling expert father (James Saito).

Things cool substantially after the friends fall into a sexual tryst in the back seat of Marcus’ Toyota. The scene is nothing new, but it’s worth it for the way Park tries to find a remotely comfortable position for his arm, as the two try to relax and make sense of what just happened.

Most of the story takes place years later, in the present, when Sasha has become LA’s starriest celebrity chef, engaged to her backer/manager (Hawaii’s Daniel Dae Kim). Marcus is now working with his father, and messing around with his band, Hello Peril, on the side. Marcus and Sasha reconnect, and, step-by-step, you know where these two are going. The surprise is in the effortless skill and light-fingered appeal of it all.

Wong and Park work like magic together; both have distinct comic timing and a way of pinging a punchline. The verbal wit may outshine some of the visual tropes and montages, but the laughs are plentiful and, for once, authentically character-driven.

Throwaway lines have a lovely way of sticking, as when Sasha’s new San Francisco venture is described as “trans-denominational,” or Marcus, on stage rapping, drops the line: “If I see another hipster opening a coffee shop/ I’ll make a body drop with my signature karate chop.”

As for the Netflix offering’s special guest star, well, you may have heard who it is. If you have — he shows up for a very funny few minutes as a celebrity fling of Sasha’s — knowing the actor’s identity won’t really mess things up for you. It’s my favorite satiric portrait of celebrity ego since Michael Cera in “This is the End,” or maybe back to Bill Murray in “Zombieland.” No zombies here, though.

In every good way, thanks primarily to Wong and Park and their chemistry, “Always Be My Maybe” is pure commercial product, yet it feels authentically alive where it counts.


*** 1/2

(PG-13, 1:41)

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