In a Californian cinema, a new film is introduced during a film festival, and among the audience are Ben (Justin H. Min) and his current partner, Miko (Ally Maki). As the film credits roll, Ben is utterly unimpressed, while his partner and the audience around him are either applauding or cheering at the cinematic experience they just had. As the pair return home, disagreements about the film continue, developing into arguments about other areas of their current relationship. Ben is struggling in multiple areas of his life. He desires to make a film one day, but his past attempts to get anything underway have failed. He is currently managing an arthouse cinema, but there are fewer and fewer customers. Ben enjoys hanging around local diners and cafes with his long-term friend Alice (Sherry Cola) when he isn’t with his partner or working.
While things are rocky in Ben’s life already, things are about to become even more challenging. Miko is offered the opportunity to go to New York after being accepted into a film-related internship. Given the ongoing friction in their relationship, the pair agrees it’s time to have a break. In return, Ben can now pursue other relationships, and hopefully, he’ll be able to sit down and get some writing done. More importantly, Ben is determined to seek out a much better life now that Miko is in New York. However, Ben soon finds that fulfilling the ultimate dream and pursuing a new relationship only presents more challenges.
Shortcomings, a directional debut from actor, comedian and writer Randall Park,combines many genres, including romance, comedy, and drama. Firstly, if you love all things related to cinema and films, there are plenty of references in Shortcomings for you to enjoy. To my surprise, there are some gags here that only true cinephiles will pick up along the way. The comedy here is filled with randomness and crude one-liners. Most side characters here are loud, strange, and witty, and the film’s lead, Ben, isn’t such a gentleman. To put it politely, Ben is often harsh, selfish, complicated, and frustrating. As the film opens, we entirely understand Miko’s concerns within their relationship, including Ben’s disconnect in many areas. Like the film High Fidelity (2000), even though Ben isn’t such a top bloke, and his choices are not always agreeable, he’s still enjoyable to follow around, and audiences will carry some form of hope that he will get his life back on track for the better.
The story is broken down into chapters, the titles referring to Ben and sometimes films. Viewers throughout the runtime are treated to random cameos and multiple turns in the story that affect Ben more and more. I found myself having the odd chuckle often, but granted, not every joke worked. I found the dramatic aspect; however, far more substantial, particularly when it comes to Ben and Miko sharing heated arguments. These arguments feel very natural and real. The film’s third act; however, does have its issues. While the movie flies on a short runtime, its final moments feel drawn out before ending abruptly, almost as if there’s uncertainty behind the camera.
Overall, as a directorial debut from actor, comedian, and writer Randall Park, I was pleased with the results. A solid level of drama was introduced, which always felt real and was complimented by the comedic aspects. Sherry Cola’s presence on-screen never disappoints. While the leading character, Ben, isn’t the most likable person in the world, you remain hopeful throughout the entire runtime that something will come good for him before the credits roll. If you enjoy films like High Fidelity from 2000, this one is for you, and cinephiles will enjoy the many film-related references and cameos delivered throughout.