Welcome back to Friday afternoon. I’ve got a few recommendations for things to watch this weekend, including a delightful romantic comedy and two other very funny (though wholly unromantic) TV shows. Here’s what’s new and good:
A fresh rom-com that understands the genre inside out
Over the last few years, there have been a number of stories from major publications about the “rom-com revival,” a trend that I still find somewhat surprising considering that, from a filmmaking perspective, romantic comedies are so hard to get right.
A good rom-com should be funny in some parts, and sexy in others. It should have a clear sense of place — preferably one specific neighborhood in a bustling metropolis. The main characters should have believable obstacles in their relationship that keep them apart at the beginning, as well as convincing changes that bring them together at the end. And in an ideal rom-com universe, the cast should rounded out by a bevy of supporting characters — the friends, family members, managers, neighbors, assistants, etc. — who are just as likeable as the leads.
Those are a lot of non-negotiable terms. But I’m pleased to report that Netflix’s new celebrity chef rom-com Always Be My Maybe delivers on all fronts.
The story of how the film came into being is actually like something that might have appeared in a Nora Ephron movie: After comedian Ali Wong mentioned in a New Yorker profile that she and her pal Randall Park had an idea for their own version of When Harry Met Sally, fans took to social media and started demanding that Hollywood turn this dream into a reality. Netflix reached out to the duo about their idea, and after bringing co-writer Michael Golamco and director Nahnatchka Khan on board, Always Be My Maybe was born.
As others have noted, the release of Always Be My Maybe is a big moment for Asian-American representation in Hollywood. The film features a cast of predominantly Asian-American actors, in a story that slyly reflects the cultural heritage of its star-creators while bucking Hollywood stereotypes. “We weren’t trying to make a statement or whatever,” Wong said in a recent Timesinterview. “If people want to put it in that context, that’s up to them. But it’s a very different movie.” By drawing on their rom-com influences — notably Boomerang and When Harry Met Sally — and writing a story with elements inspired by both of their lives, Wong and Park have created a space where their distinctive personalities can flourish on screen.
Playing Sasha Tran, an empire-building celebrity chef who returns to her native San Francisco to open a new restaurant, Wong effortlessly slides between the roles of kitchen boss, glamorous Hollywood player, and down-to-earth townie. And as Marcus, a stoner electrician/musician who never got over the death of his mom when he was a teen, Park exudes a mixture of sweetness and quiet sadness that’s completely endearing — his performance is the real heart of the film. It should come as no surprise that Sasha helps get him out of his slump, and that Marcus, in turn, helps her refocus her career so that she’s cooking food straight from the heart.
The greatest food moments in the film are the scenes in home kitchens: Sasha preparing Spam with rice as a kid, and a more luxurious version of this same meal as an adult; a sweet sequence where Marcus’s mom shows his neighborhood friend how to make kimchi jjigae, and Sasha recreates this dish at the end of the film. There’s also a hilarious scene where Marcus and Sasha visit a local dim sum parlor and he gets better treatment — and free food! —because he can speak with the servers in Cantonese.
The rest of the movie is peppered with jokes about trendy dishes — Sasha is the chef at a “transdenominational Vietnamese fusion” restaurant, after all — and there’s a particularly hilarious scene where the protagonists join Keanu Reeves (playing himself!) at an absurdly pretentious restaurant. Niki Nakayama, the omakase virtuoso who appeared in the first season of Chef’s Table, worked as the culinary consultant on this movie, and her guiding hand is felt in this scene, as the main characters eat monochromatic tweezer food followed by freshly-blown dessert balloons.
The big comedy bits work well, but I swear I could watch an entire movie of Marcus and Sasha bumming around the Richmond District and checking up on their old favorite haunts before he performs with his rap-funk group Hello Peril at a nearby dive bar. If you’ve spent any significant time in San Francisco, where Wong grew up and much of the movie was filmed, you’re likely to notice a few details that channel those Bay Area vibes, including Hieroglyphics stickers, Amoeba tees, vintage Giants jerseys, and a car radio tuned to slow-jam station KMEL.
Always Be My Maybe is now available to stream on Netflix, and it’s also showing in select theaters across the country this weekend.
Streaming selections du jour
Broad City, “Stories”
Watch it on: Hulu
The gist: Like many of the best Broad City episodes, the Season 5 premiere involves BFFs Abbi and Ilana embarking on a journey through New York City that’s full of amusing twists and turns. In this case, the pals are walking the length of Manhattan, from Harlem to Battery Park, to commemorate Abbi’s 30th birthday, with stops along the way at Marcus Samuelsson’s flagship restaurant Red Rooster and Lower East Side favorite Russ & Daughters Cafe. The clever twist here is that the entire episode is presented as a series of emoji-filled “stories” like you find on Instagram, that is, until both of Abbi Ilana’s phones get knocked out of commission and they’re forced to enjoy a triple rainbow by themselves without documenting it for all their followers to see.
As of this week, every Broad City episode — including the ones from the fifth and final season — are now streaming for free on Hulu.
The Last O.G., “Criminal Minded”
The gist: The second season of TBS’s outrageous comedy The Last O.G., is largely about Tray, an ex-con played by Tracy Morgan, opening his own food truck. And in this penultimate episode we finally see that truck, Last Meals on Wheels, hit the road. Shortly after the grill is fired up, Tray and his team get squeezed by a local gangster who collects “taxes” from all the other vendors in the area. The episode concludes with Tray enlisting the help of an old friend — another reformed gangster played by Clifford M. Smith Jr. (AKA Method Man) — to help stand up to the food truck’s foe. Thanks to a flashback scene that provides some backstory, “Criminal Minded” works as a standalone episode and a great introduction to this very funny cable series.
In other entertainment news…
- Last Friday, Mario Batali pleaded not guilty to indecent assault and battery charges stemming from a 2017 incident when the celebrity chef allegedly kissed and groped a woman at his Boston restaurant. If he’s convicted, Batali could spend up to five years in prison.
- On a much, much lighter note, the veteran cast members of Big Little Lies say they bonded with newcomer Meryl Streep over pizza and wine while filming Season 2 of HBO’s hit show.
- Since leaving the U.S.S. Enterprise, Captain Picard has apparently become a big player in the biodynamic winemaking scene.
- Visitors to Disneyland’s new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge theme park can enjoy treat like blue milk (tastes like sorbet), “endorian tip-yip” (fried chicken, basically), and “mustafarian lava rolls” (no clue).
- And finally, while filming Aladdin, cool dad Will Smith hired a mac and cheese truck to feed the cast and crew.
Have a great weekend, and if you’re looking to eat something that is vaguely healthy to eat, check out this new recipe for Sqirl’s Woodstock salad.