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Review: Shortcomings

Shortcomings, actor Randall Park's directorial debut, is adapted for the screen by Adrian Tomine from his 2007 graphic novel. Centering around a deeply unlikeable lead character, the film subverts rom-com expectations as it raises a number of interesting ideas around attraction, race, and relationships. However, too often the film feels directionless and while these ideas give one plenty to chew on, the summation of them doesn't amount to much.

Ben(Justin H. Min) is a 30-ish slacker who manages an old movie theater in Berkeley. He has dreams of being a filmmaker but hasn't taken any steps toward making that happen. Instead, he watches Criterion films over and over and ignores his girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki). She is at her limit with Ben when the film opens and rightly so. He doesn't do anything with his life and constantly criticizes her, the world, and everyone in it. She even asks him what gives him the right to do so. Ben is too in his head, too full of his own importance and self-pity to act any other way.

When Miko takes an internship in New York, the couple takes a break. This is after Miko calls Ben out for his intense attraction to blonde, white women. At first, Ben seems to live up to this, fetishizing a new cashier at the theater (Tavi Gevinson) and swooning over a bisexual woman he meets at a party (Debby Ryan). Even his best friend Alice (a great Sherry Cola) calls him out for his peculiar obsession with European blondes.

Min does a great job of making Ben sufferable because so many of his traits are annoying. He makes Ben into a genuine person who recognizes that the movies have shaped his view of beauty, he just doesn't care to change that. Min's charisma makes Ben someone we don't necessarily root for but we do hope he figures things out. It is a very strong performance even if the character is underwritten at times.

The film is at its best when Ben and Alice get together to talk about their relationships and issues. The two actors have a natural chemistry. Cola is proving she is a welcome addition to any film after her great performance earlier in the year in Joy Ride. I wish the film had more of her in it but the focus is on Ben, and well that means the film falls short here and there. The plot is a bit routine and some of the big ideas here are not explored to their full potential, particularly around assimilation and identity. Ben learns some things but the film stops short of making a strong comment on his race and his attraction to other races. Thanks to Park's comedic direction, the film has plenty of laughs along the way.



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