Charitably, Ben could be called a film snob. He works at an arthouse cinema and spends his free time watching Criterion Collection Blu-rays. Anyone who enjoys mainstream movies is, in his eyes, a philistine. When Miko gets a chance to go to New York for an internship she’s been dreaming of, Ben is not entirely supportive. It disrupts his comfortable life. She goes anyway. In response, he begins to indulge in his fantasy of being with white women. He starts up a fling with a new co-worker named Autumn (Tavi Gevinson) and then with an old acquaintance, Sasha (Debby Ryan).
Miko leaving is a blow. Another comes when his best friend/confidante Alice (Sherry Cola) also considers leaving Berkeley to be with a new girlfriend who she thinks might be “the one.” This revelation leads him to realize everyone in his life is passing him by. The question is, what to do about it when his worldview is so self-centered?
Based on the graphic novel by Adrian Tomine, Shortcomings marks the directorial debut of actor Randall Park. I hope he will continue directing, because this is a triumphant first feature. Park and Tomine (who wrote his own adaptation) tell a story that’s culturally specific and universal at the same time. The film delves meaningfully into issues like Asian/white dating. Ben is in a relationship with an Asian-American woman, yet ogles white women and watches white porn, thereby sending an inadvertent message to Miko that she’s not good enough. We haven’t seen a lot of movies dealing with such subjects. It’s fresh and fascinating.
The characters’ feelings and the situations they find themselves in will be relatable to a lot of people, though. Shortcomings deals with romantic confusion, personal dissatisfaction, friendship, and more. Sharp, witty dialogue brings these themes out in a manner that’s often hysterical and even more often truthful. The movie is a fantastic character study, not just of Ben but of all the story’s major players.
Justin H. Min (After Yang) is outstanding as Ben, capturing his narcissism without making him so unappealing that we lose interest. Ally Maki beautifully conveys Miko’s frustration and desire to make a life for herself. As she did in this summer’s Joy Ride, Sherry Cola steals every scene she’s in, giving a winning performance that mixes comic cynicism with underlying tenderness. Gevinson, Ryan, and Timothy Simons (as a guy Miko becomes involved with in New York) turn in ace supporting work.
Well-made on every count and consistently funny, Shortcomings is a pleasure from beginning to end.
out of four
Shortcomings is rated R for language throughout, sexual material, and brief nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.