Also known by me as Crazy Broke Asians, a film that has me finally feeling seen.
What it's about
Based on the graphic novel by Adrian Tomine, Shortcomings follows Ben (Justin H. Min), a college dropout turned filmmaker with more than a few things to say about love, art, politics, and identity.
It’s always tricky translating literature to screen. In Shortcomings’ case, it struggles to make its Berkeley and New York settings appear more lived-in than just a few postcard-like frames. You could also tell that the conversations it stirs up about things like representation and mixed-race relationships began in the early aughts, when the novel it was adapted from was first released. But those lapses are small and forgivable in the face of a lovely ensemble cast and a whipsmart script.
It also takes a special kind of skill to make a character as fiercely unlikeable as Ben (Min) watchable, to hold up a mirror to the audience and make them stay. Thankfully, it's a skill that Tomine and first-time director Randall Park display with such grace. Ben, Alice (Sherry Cola), and Miko (Ally Maki) are flawed and often pathetic, but they’re also honest reflections of who we become when the demands of self-preservation and romantic openness clash. It’s a little unnerving to hear them verbalize what we've always feared about ourselves, but it’s also exhilarating, not to mention comforting, knowing that we're not alone in feeling this way. Shortcomings works because it doesn't confine itself to genre: it's a character study first, and a romantic comedy second.
What stands out
The three leads give wonderful lived-in performances, but it’s hard to turn your eyes away from Tavi Gevinson as Autumn and Jacob Batalon as Gene whenever they’re on screen. Despite their limited screen time, they make the characters truly their own, with personalities and mannerisms that somehow feel both unique and universal. It’s clear they’re mostly there for comic relief, but they fulfill that role with such gumption I just keep wanting to see them.
More like this in
The Zone of Interest (2023)
A chilling and masterful display of the banality of evil
Forgotten Love (2023)
The stunning third take of the classic Polish pre-war melodrama
End of the Century (2019)
A quietly devastating queer romance that does everything with softness and sensitivity
The Guilty (2018)
A minimalist, razor-sharp thriller that will have you gasping for air.
Mea Culpa (2024)
A snoozefest that lacks the sensuality and mystery to count as an erotic thriller
Thank You, I’m Sorry (2023)
Estranged sisters reconnect amidst grief and bizarre comedy in this understated Swedish drama
Einstein and the Bomb (2024)
A dramatized depiction of Einstein’s own words against Nazism
Leave the World Behind (2023)
Shyamalan meets Black Mirror in this hugely entertaining, visually inventive apocalyptic thriller with a killer ending
System Crasher (2019)
A tale of trauma and one of the most talked about movies on Netflix in 2020.
Last Call for Istanbul (2023)
A seemingly generic Turkish romance travel film, until it gets into its second half