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Shortcomings: Film Review

Randall Park’s directorial debut Shortcomings is a comedy with a lot on its mind, but it suffers from a greatly unlikeable protagonist.

Every so often, there comes a film that brings up a cultural issue that I have never thought of before. Randall Park’s Shortcomings did this twice within the first twenty minutes. Shortcomings is about Ben (Justin H. Min, of After Yang), a manager at a local movie theatre and a boyfriend to Miko (Ally Maki, of Toy Story 4). Their relationship is not in a good place, and they argue constantly, mainly about Ben’s potential obsession with white women, and their differing views on film. When Miko lands an internship across the country, Ben is left alone with his close friend Alice (Sherry Cola, of Joy Ride) to navigate his convoluted feelings.

Shortcomings mainly takes place in Berkeley, California, where most of the characters we meet are very liberal and very into film. While this might not be a community that everyone is familiar with, Adrian Tomie’s script satirizes the characters in a way that can make anyone laugh, regardless of political views or interest in film. However, some of the conversations that occur feel like they could come from the worst of film Twitter, making it even more relatable and hilarious for people that are in these communities.

Around ten minutes into Shortcomings, I realized that Ben isn’t a protagonist that I would ever want to root for. Even though at times he could be charming, for the majority of the film, everything he said made me roll my eyes. This choice led me to have mixed thoughts about the way this story was told. Having an unlikeable protagonist can certainly make a film succeed, especially in comedies, but Ben was almost insufferable at times. In my college career, I have taken a ton of film studies classes, and he reminded me of some of my least favorite people in that program. This isn’t a criticism of Min’s performance, since he excels at portraying this personality type, but since Ben is so unlikable, it was hard to follow him for the 90-minute runtime. During the different sections of the film, we see Ben interact with around six other people, and as they would come and go, it made me want to stay and get to know their characters a lot more than our protagonist.

loud and clear reviews shortcomings film movie tribeca 2023
Justin Min as Ben and Sherry Cola as Alice in Shortcomings (Jon Pack. Courtesy ofSony Pictures Classics / 2023 Tribeca Film Festival)

Shortcomings is one of the rare comedies that have messages about race and representation without the jokes being at the expense of anyone, or too in your face where it’s overwhelming. One of these messages is about the increasing amount of POC-led films. Over the last few years, films such as Black Panther and In the Heights have been well received not only due to their impressive filmmaking elements, but also to how they serve as a landmark for on-screen representation.

At the very beginning of Shortcomings, we see the ending of a film that looks very similar to Crazy Rich Asians. As the fictional film fades to black, the audience is cheering and crying, while Ben seems not only unimpressed but angry. A few scenes later, he’s in a conversation with Miko about how bad the movie was and how people will just praise a film for a diverse cast regardless of quality. This idea absolutely fascinates me and is something that I have never thought about before. While I don’t necessarily have an opinion on this topic, the idea was one of my biggest takeaways from this film and one that hopefully gets explored more, especially by filmmakers of Color.

Another idea explored in Shortcomings that I found fascinating is about relationships. One of the biggest arguments Ben and Miko have is when she finds his porn history on his laptop. While she isn’t too upset that he is watching porn, she mentions that it’s concerning that there are only white women on his screen. He replies to her concerns by saying how porn is supposed to be a fantasy, which only makes her feel worse. Even after this conversation, Alice has a running joke with Ben claiming that he is exclusively attracted to white people. I personally believe people can’t help who they are attracted to, and I didn’t blame Ben at first (even though his girlfriend is a Woman of Color).  But then, Ben says that there is a double standard when it comes to people of Asian descent dating white people. In his eyes, an Asian man dating a white woman is more seen as a “good for you, man,” but if it’s the other way around, the man seems like he fetishizes.

Ben’s point of view is something that I have heard before, but this is a difficult conversation to have, let alone include in a film. As a society, we are improving by eliminating stereotypes, but while the concept of interracial relationships is no longer problematic, there is still a lot of prejudice coming from both sides. Having a character like Ben explains his views so explicitly can hopefully help people realize that there is still a bias, even if it’s subconscious. It takes films like these for people to start having conversations about issues that are hard to bring up, and for people to start the process of removing that bias.

While Shortcomings is often a frustrating watch, it is quite hilarious and filled with interesting ideas that I believe a lot of audiences can take away. Sherry Cola is absolutely hilarious as Alice, and what makes the movie worth sitting through. Adrian Tomine’s screenplay is so strong here, and after Shortcomings, I absolutely cannot wait to see what he writes next. Even though this is an independent film, I see it as another step forward in representation, both in front of and behind the camera, and I encourage as many people as possible to see this so that more films like this can be made.

Shortcomings premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 17, 2023, and will be released by Sony Pictures Classics on August 4. Read our list of 15 films to watch at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival!

Shortcomings: Trailer (Sony Pictures Classics)
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