Movie Review: 'Shortcomings'
A fine rom-com-drama that's great at recognizing the one key element about its protagonist: that he's terrible.
Someone recently wrote that Randall Parks’ feature directorial debut, Shortcomings, was reminiscent of the wave of independent films that was experienced in the 1990s. Certainly, his movie has all of the right elements - a meta love/hate relationship with modern cinema, a twist on the romantic comedy pattern, and a protagonist who is as unlikely to lead a movie as he is ultimately and truly relatable. This makes Shortcomings quirky, offbeat, and cool.
I’m unfamiliar with writer Adrian Tomine’s career as a comic artist (he adapted one of his stories into the screenplay for this film), but he makes for a great teammate with director (who appears in a cameo) Randall Parks, who himself is most recently familiar with nostalgia for 90s-ish cinema, having starred in the short-lived Netflix series Blockbuster. There, he played the manager of the last Blockbuster video store in operation. Here, he and Adrian Tomine are the facilitators for and the dreamers of the world of a jerk movie theater manager, who is due for a reckoning straight out of Sundance (the festival) filmmaking.
Justin Min plays the theater manager and lead character Ben, a young man who takes just about everything in his life for granted and treats everyone as avatars for his sometimes witty but often argumentative conversations. He’s not unlike the Kevin Smith-created (another Randall) video store jockey from the classic Clerks (a real 90s-era flick), only less nihilistically vulgar. Ben is, however, pretty aggressive, mostly passively and sometimes directly, which is pretty off-putting for a “hero” to be. But Justin Min doesn’t perform Ben that way, instead going for a more self-gratifying villain.
Ben’s hangups are unloaded on his best friend, played with formidable energy and excellence by the great Sherry Cola, and his girlfriend Miko, whom he behaves overly cutesy with. Miko is like a crutch for Ben’s attitude and his station in life. No one should have to put up with that.
Shortcomings moves between the independent film meccas of Los Angeles and New York City, taking advantage of that indie (independent) feeling that is craved most endearingly by contemporary cinephiles, now and likely forever. And it works. There’s more at play in the movie, like Asian-American interpersonal relationships and their representation in media and culture, but really, down and out, this is a story about an a
sshole who tried ever so hard to force life on his own terms, completely missing the joy and the point of it all. He can’t stand most people, especially those who swoon over the latest mainstream tear-jerker knock-off film, like the satirical take on Crazy Rich Asians that screens at the opening of Shortcomings. This is Ben’s movie, dammit. He WILL be heard.
But does he have anything worthwhile to say, or is it just noise?
I wouldn’t label Shortcomings as one-note, as its performances and arcs are pretty bold, thanks to Justin Min, Sherry Cola, and Ally Maki - the girlfriend Miko. I would, however, suggest some pre-show homework before watching, like the aforementioned Clerks, In the Soup, or any Ed Burns-directed film.
This shouldn’t be necessary to appreciate any movie but try to see it as a good study of cinema that’s gone by.
Well, not completely “gone.” 3.5/5
Shortcomings is wrapping up its theatrical run, and will be available on demand soon.
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