Asian Mumblecore is a Thing Now: Our Review of ‘Shortcomings’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - August 04, 2023
Asian Mumblecore is a Thing Now: Our Review of ‘Shortcomings’

Justin H. Min plays Ben, the protagonist in Randall Park’s film adaptation of Adrian Tomine’s graphic novel Shortcomings. In one of the early scenes, he plays a beard for his best friend Alice (Sherry Cola). They both go to a Korean-American church function. That function is already awkward as it because Alice is still hiding her sexuality from her community. And they’re more anxious if that community finds out that Ben is Japanese. They don’t, they jump through that hurdle, oblivious to the fact that their friendship may not last forever.

Shortcomings further highlights Ben’s obliviousness as he simultaneously pursues two white women, Autumn (Tavi Genevson) and Sasha (Abby Ryan). He does this while he’s still on a break from his current girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki), whom he passive aggressively resents as she takes an internship at New York City. As a true man of the San Francisco Bay area, his reasons for poo poo-ing her internship is because of his bias against New York City. As the film progresses, it reveals that Ben’s biases make the film’s women back away from him.

Park’s adaptation of Shortcomings is a reminder, for better or for worse, that Asian mumblecore exist. Recent examples of diasporic Asian cinema, at least in my experience anyway, feel quiet. Although, yes, lumping this film with Past Lives and Riceboy Sleeps feels reductive. Quiet is also a strange word to describe a film that has its share of climactic moments. All movies have those, but this one has a recounting of a violent act and another where Ben and Sasha argue after he convinces himself that a man looked at him weird.

Park’s approach to this story isn’t wholly new, and his tone levels aren’t always at 100. But the interesting phenomenon happening here is that he’s producing the uncanny valley of representation. What I mean by this is that the closer something is at attempting to representing a viewer, the more they resent said representation. Ben is an Asian cinephile, just like me, and I’ve read a few fellow cinephiles who reviewed this negatively. Because, in fairness to said cinephiles, a lot of things about Ben don’t match what real a-hole cinephiles are like.

Ben isn’t the most accurate depiction of an a-hole cinephile, but a borderline archetype like him makes for great comedy potential that Park eventually taps. Shortcomings is at its best when it goes big, and it does when Ben and Miko reconnect in a confrontation that also involves Leon (Timothy Simons) who is, well, I won’t spoil it even if you read the graphic novel like I did. Park makes his actors stretch, which works well. And Tomine writes the screenplay, this time around writing a line that may just be an all-time argument ender.

Watch Shortcomings in select Canadian theatres.

This post was written by
While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.

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