SHORTCOMINGS Review: Growing Up Is Hard to Do, No Matter Your Age

Justin H. Min, Sherry Cola, Ally Maki, Debby Ryan, Tavi Gevinson, Sonoya Mizuno, Jacob Batalon and Timothy Simons star in Randall Park's feature directorial debut.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
SHORTCOMINGS Review: Growing Up Is Hard to Do, No Matter Your Age

"To see ourselves as others see us! It would from many a blunder free us." -- Robert Burns, 1786.

The film opens Friday, August 4, 2023, in select U.S. movie theaters, via Sony Pictures Classics.

First published as a graphic novel in 2007, Adrian Tomine's Shortcomings told the story of Ben Tanaka and Miko Hayashi. Ben owns a movie theater in Berkeley, California, but is not interested in Asian-American culture, which brings him into conflict with the politically active Miko, who ends up moving to New York, whereupon Ben indulges in his "wandering eye" for European women. (Plot summary from Wikipedia.)

In adapting his graphic novel for the screen, Adrian Tomine updates it with a plethora of cultural events on the Asian-American landscape over the past couple of years. Thus, Ben is a movie-theater manager in Berkeley, and Miko works for a local Asian-American film festival. Their six-year relationship is put on pause when Miko accepts an internship that takes her to New York City for three months. During that 'pause,' Ben pursues relationships with white women, as Miko grows ever more distant.

As portrayed by Justin H. Min (After Yang, Beef), Ben is a likable yet prickly sort of fellow, wading ever more firmly into the deep and murky waters of negativity. He can't help himself; he's a cynic, he doesn't think much of what other people are doing, and always looks on the dark side.

To himself, of course, Ben feels like he's the only reasonable person in the room, and is always ready to excuse his own actions or shift the blame and/or responsibility upon someone, or something else. Really, he needs a rude slap of reality to come to grips with his biggest enemy and stumbling block in life: himself.

In other words, he needs to grow up.

The move by Maki (Ally Maki) to New York City is an unsettling change, but it makes perfect sense. When his best friend and frequent dining partner Alice (Sherry Cola, currently in Joy Ride) later decides to move to New York City as well, that's another nudge.

In between those two events, Ben attempts to date white women, first with new movie theater worker Autumn (Tavi Gevinson), then with the forward-thinking Sasha (Debby Ryan). The latter is more successful, but also identifies further areas where Ben is stuck in his own interpretation of racial identity and prejudice.

The latter issue becomes more pronounced in the movie's third act, where his interactions with the successful Meredith (Sonoya Mizuno) and fashion designer Leon (Timothy Simons) shine a brighter light on Ben's need to mature past his own stubborn personality, which stopped growing in his teens, from all available evidence.

That Tomine, Park, and the very talented cast, especially Justin H. Min, manage to put this all together in such an attractive package is a marvel. At its start, it feels like a charming comedy about a lovable grouch, complete with an addiction to cinematic touchstones like Ozu and Cassavetes and the Criterion Collection. (The movie posters are to die for!)

As it progresses, though, Ben is revealed to be not as charming as he thinks he is. The title gives it away, naturally. Even so, it's a very winning film with heart, filled with warmth, wit, kindness, and sharp insights into people and what it is that drives them.

Even when they don't know what that might be.

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Ally MakiDebby RyanJacob BatalonJustin H. MinRandall ParkSherry ColaSonoya MizunoSony Pictures ClassicsTavi GevinsonTimothy Simons

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