Netflix keeps churning out romantic comedies, often relying on the smallest of wrinkles to distinguish them. In the case of “Always Be My Maybe,” it’s clearly a vehicle for Ali Wong and Randall Park, who also hold writing and producing credits on this relatively bland concoction, which blends a whole lot of ingredients and one welcome sprinkle of Keanu Reeves.
It’s obviously nice to see a rom-com built around Asian-American leads, with “Maybe” coming after the breakout box-office success of “Crazy Rich Asians,” which starred Park’s “Fresh Off the Boat” co-star, Constance Wu.
In addition, the film marks the feature directing debut of that show’s producer, Nahnatchka Khan, and what amounts to an extended cameo by Reeves, who temporarily invests the whole exercise with a jolt of goofball energy that almost seems borrowed from another movie.
At its core, the film tells you pretty much everything worth knowing in the title (inspired, clearly, by the Mariah Carey song “Always Be My Baby”), in chronicling the story of Sasha (Wong) and Marcus (Park), childhood friends who separate on bad terms, only to come back together 15 years later.
In the intervening years, Sasha has become a well-known celebrity chef, so much so that Marcus’ admiring dad (James Saito) refers to her as “our own Asian Oprah.” Marcus, meanwhile, is working a more conventional job with his father, while still harboring dreams of playing in a band.
That disparity – a woman with an elite, glamorous career, trying to have a relationship (eventually) with a man relegated to “plus-one” status – would probably be enough of a hook, if the film actually devoted itself to exploring it.
Instead, the narrative keeps throwing fabricated impediments between the two, starting with her fiancé (Daniel Dae Kim), who decides to postpone the wedding; followed by the intrusion of Reeves, who again demonstrates comedy muscles that he only occasionally gets to flex on screen when he’s not killing lots and lots of people.
Park and Wong are both innately likable, which makes the movie pleasant enough to watch, but also a bit of a slog given the ostensible inevitability of where it’s heading. Their confused stares, frankly, do as much good as almost anything else here, other than Reeves and an awkward dinner scene that amusingly plays off the snobbery of foodies.
The good news is that Netflix and the general appetite for content is providing gifted performers like Park and Wong platforms to build opportunities for themselves and escape best-friend status. The not-as-good news is that in terms of delivering enough to earn a “watch” recommendation, “Maybe” merely merits that waffling designation.
“Always Be My Maybe” is playing in select theaters and premieres May 31 on Netflix.