Shortcomings Review- A Film that Captures the Mundanity of Some Asians Lives (Sundance 2023)

There have been a handful of fantastic Asian set films in America in recent year’s Crazy Rich Asians, Minari, and Everything Everywhere All at Once come to mind in recent memory. Shortcomings is another such Asian set film that is based on a graphic novel of the same name by Adrian Tormine. He also wrote the screenplay. It explores the world of Asians living in California and New York.

Ben (Justin H Min, After Yang) lives in California with his girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki) and runs a movie theater there. He has a few hobbies, among them watching criterion movies. In his free time, he likes to hang out with his friend Alice,(Sherry Cola) a queer woman who has issues with her dating habits. When Miko decides she needs a break from Ben, she moves to New York City for an internship. Which leaves Ben to his own devices. So he starts to mingle with other women.

Randall Park might be a name that is familiar to some people. He is famous for Fresh Off the Boat the Asian-centric sitcom and his recurring character of Agent Jimmy Woo from Antman and the Wasp and Wanda/Vision in the MCU. Park parleys his popularity as a comedic actor into a directing gig as he has been attached to this project for a while now. He was fascinated with the everyday lives of Asian people depicted in the graphic novel. so he finally made the film after fifteen years. And he did a good job with it.

He definitely captures the mundanity of life from the perspective of these characters. Part of the charm of Shortcomings is the fact that these people hang out at cafes, watch movies on their couches, go for walks, and do everyday normal things people do. I liked that aspect of the film. Not enough movies capture the normal lives the characters have in films. The Asian cast were a nice blend of comedic actors and dramatic actors who all played their various roles in that mundanity of life.

The main star Justin H Min as Ben was an interesting guy. The way he played the main character was a bit of a cad. He had his moments and you as an audience member felt for him a couple of times but he wasn’t necessarily the nicest guy to be around. He was a bit egotistical to some extent. His self-snobbish nature gets him in trouble with his friends and especially his romantic relationships. I liked his performance even though I didn’t always like his character. That’s a sign of a good actor though. When he convinces you to dislike his character he’s doing a good job.

The rest of the cast is pretty good in the film from the employees at the movie theater among them Jacob Batalan from the MCU Spider-Man films and Tavi Gevinson a goth girl, Debby Ryan plays a girl the main character dates for a while but Sherry Cola as the main character’s best friend and Ally Maki as his girlfriend are the two standouts in smaller roles. They bring gravity to this man’s life. They are the emotional support the movie stands on and thrives on. 

Shortcomings isn’t going to wow you with its clever dialogue or craziness of other Asian set films because it’s a more grounded film about the everyday lives of these people. The graphic novel obviously shows that and the creator adopts that world perfect for the film. Park takes that screenplay and brings it to life with exuberance and excitement. The main character is quite an interesting character with his faults, we all have faults we are not proud of. This movie just captures this not-so-nice guy very adeptly. People will have a decisive opinion about the film but I liked the normalcy of it.

3 ½ 2tars 

Dan Skip Allen

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