Adrian Tomine has scripted his original graphic novel, “Shortcomings” into a low-key humorous romantic comedy of the same name that focuses on three thirty-something Asian American characters. Under the direction of Randall Park, the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival as part of the US Dramatic Competition contenders.
This threesome is a modern triangle of San Francisco area friends, none of whom I’d like to be friends with. Ben Tanaka (Justin H. Min), the manager of an old art house movie theater, is accompanying his well-to-do live-in girlfriend Mike (Ally Maki) to an API film festival. They’ve just viewed the ending scene of a film where a rich East Asian man is buying a hotel over the phone after his lady love has been insulted by the staff. Yes, that’s a cheap shot at director Jon M. Chu’s 2018 adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel of the same name, “Crazy Rich Asians.” That film starred Constance Wu, Park’s co-star in “Fresh Off the Boat.”
Ben can barely bring his false face of compliments out when he meets the director, post-screening. To his lesbian best friend, Ph.D. candidate Alice (Sherry Cola), he complains, “I keep getting aftershock cringes.” But Ben reveals himself as being too self-involved. When Alice flirts with their waitress, he can’t bring himself to be a good wingman or even a good friend. We quickly assume that Ben has a few problems to work out and aren’t surprised when Miko claims she has received word that she’s been given an internship in New York, something that she mentioned to Ben, but he’s obviously forgotten.
Miko, in what seems like an amazing act of generosity, gives Ben the opportunity to sow some wild oats. For the three months she’s gone, they can put their relationship on hold. She doesn’t expect him to be faithful and, she tells him, not to worry about the rent check being late to her father. While she’s gone, Ben ditches ethical behavior, first trying out his freedom with an employee he has just hired who does horrible performance art. And while Ben is fumbling with romance, we learn that Alice isn’t really cut out for academics and perhaps even polite company of any kind. Ben and Alice will end up in New York and Ben will have a confrontation with Alice that will change our perceptions of the beginning scenes.
Neither Tomine nor Park really foreshadow the ending from what I could tell and that’s a bit of a cheat, but under the promising direction of Park, all the characters feel real, lived in and nuanced. “Shortcomings” is about flawed people finding their way through life in a messy, tangled world where there is hope, but not necessarily happy endings. However, as director Park has a good eye and rhythm, making “Shortcomings” a promising directorial debut. While Tomine’s graphic novel was originally published in 2007 (serialized between January 2004 – March 2007), the issues is raises are still relevant today.
According to Variety, in a deal brokered by UTA and WME, Sony Pictures Classics has acquired worldwide rights to “Shortcomings” following its premiere at Sundance Film Festival. A release date has not been set.