It’s going to be a tough ask to get some audiences to warm up to a film with so many unlikable characters, but “Shortcomings” is breezy, fun, and irreverent in the best possible way. Based on the graphic novel by Adrian Tomine (who also wrote the screenplay), the film marks actor Randall Park‘s directorial debut. The result is a movie with a wicked sense of wit and humor that perfectly captures how it feels to be an outsider trying to find a sense of belonging.
Struggling filmmaker Ben (Justin H. Min) lives in Berkeley, California with his girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki). She works for a local Asian American film festival while he manages an art house movie theater. Ben is, to put it mildly, a real jerk. Snarky and egotistical, the self-absorbed twentysomething spends his time watching DVDs, hanging out in diners with his gay best friend (and serial dater) Alice (Sherry Cola), and obsessing over blond, white women when he already is lucky to have such a great girlfriend. When Miko announces she’s moving to New York for the internship of a lifetime, Ben is left behind. Faced with the prospect of being alone, he’s given a lot of time to think about what he truly wants in love and life.
It’s a surprisingly uncluttered story with complex themes that include frank discussions and depictions of self-hate, racial politics, cultural expectations, and the obstacles that adulthood throws in our faces. The characters are equally complicated, all antiheros of sorts with their own flaws and difficult personalities. Regardless of their overall likeability, the characters and their relationships feel real and relatable, especially when it comes to their struggles with identity and the time spent searching for the perfect partner (not to mention the self-doubt that also brings to the table).
Min is believable as a charming jackass, but Cola steals the film with her lively comic relief. The two play well off each other, and their friendship feels legitimate. Never mind how obnoxious these two characters can be, they ground the story in a unique and different way.
Tomine’s script has a great sense of humor, if sometimes cynical. It’s genuinely funny, but the story is also insightful, particularly when tackling those real-life situations that will hit home with anybody that has ever been part of a romantic relationship. It’s painful, it’s authentic, and it’s flippant in a way that makes “Shortcomings” a film that captures the true nature of being human.
By: Louisa Moore