'Shortcomings' Review: Dazed and Confused – The New York Times

Directed by Randall Park, this charming comedy a few Japanese American man’s belated coming-of-age touches upon fascinating questions of identification however fails to dig beneath the floor.

“Shortcomings,” the directorial debut of the actor Randall Park, opens with a movie-within-the-movie: it’s a spoof of “Loopy Wealthy Asians,” enjoying at an Asian movie competition within the Bay Space. As Ben (Justin H. Min), a Japanese American cinephile, and his girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki), a competition organizer, step out of the theater, Ben blasts it as “a garish mainstream rom-com that glorifies the capitalist fantasy of vindication via materialism and wealth.”

I nodded enthusiastically. Too unhealthy Ben seems to be a jerk.

If the meme “the worst particular person you recognize simply made an excellent level” have been a film, it might be “Shortcomings.” Ben’s opinions aren’t incorrect — market-tested company ploys at range do deserve our skepticism, as an illustration, and the toilet-bowl artwork of Ben’s hipster co-worker (Tavi Gevinson) does deserve the snide snort it elicits from him — however he’s self-absorbed and fickle. His moping and griping are unearned, lobbed like moist blankets at anybody making an attempt to really do one thing with their lives, like Miko, or his finest pal, Alice (Sherry Cola).

“Shortcomings” traces the belated coming-of-age of Ben, as Miko abruptly leaves for New York for the summer season and Ben fumbles round, relationship completely different girls and confronting the looming closure of the artwork home movie show the place he works. His character arc isn’t new: Hollywood has given us quite a few stunted heroes who slowly, begrudgingly, come to appreciate their, err, shortcomings. The place Park’s film, tailored from a 2007 graphic novel by Adrian Tomine, feels recent is in the way in which it brings Ben’s Asian American identification into the combo. Is his maladjustment a consequence of his expertise of otherness, or is he only a common previous man-child?

Ben, for his half, invokes and denies racism opportunistically: He’s dismissive when Miko accuses him of ogling white girls, however shortly labels her new lover, Leon — a white man, performed hilariously by Timothy Simons, who speaks Japanese and busts out Taekwondo strikes — a “rice king.” Ben isn’t being truthful — however neither is the scorned date who tells Ben that his lot in life is owed solely to him, to not his race. What these arguments get at is the real battle, acquainted to individuals of shade, to wrest some company from a world that tells us who we will and can’t be.

Park’s movie isn’t intrepid sufficient to essentially plumb the thorny terrain of that battle. The film is humorous and touching, with a star-making efficiency by Min and a script stuffed with pretty, self-aware little touches: When Jacob Batalon, who performs one in every of Ben’s co-workers, derides the “Spider-Man” films that the actor himself stars in, I chuckled. However it’s shot like a sitcom — flat, shiny, perfunctory — and structured like one, too, with quip-heavy vignettes that resolve in pat conclusions. Ben certainly deserves his comeuppance, however “Shortcomings” traces too neat a story journey to that finish, leaving a path of unexplored questions and missed alternatives in its wake.

Rated R for some references to intercourse and pornography, and a few disturbingly unintelligible punk artwork. Working time: 1 hour 32 minutes. In theaters.

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