Film Review: Shortcomings

two people in wondow Justin Min as Ben and Sherry Cola as Alice in SHORTCOMINGS. Photo credit Jon Pack. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Ben Tanaka’s life is stalling. He can’t write the screenplay he dropped out of school for. He works as a manager at a near-empty arts house cinema. He lives in an apartment paid for by his girlfriend, Miko’s father, and their relationship has reached a stage of dull unhappiness. Ben is an angry, young man who isn’t entirely sure who to blame – capitalism, racism, history, hipsters. Ben has nothing he wants — a caucasian girl according to his best friend Alice — and wants nothing he has. Ben can’t even explain his desire for a caucasian. Is it a fetish, a preference, or even a mark of acceptance and assimilation (both Ben and Miko are Japanese Americans)? Perhaps all three? But Ben will have to reckon with his shortcomings when a new blond and bright woman turns up at the theatre seeking a job around the same time Miko leaves for a 3-month internship in New York, ostensibly “taking a break” from Ben.

This quirky, lightly-dark-comedy is based on Adriane Tomine’s graphic novel and directed by Randall Park. Ben is prickly and malcontent, a difficult character whose downfall is obvious to everyone around him except himself. He contains many contradictions, especially in his attitude towards mixed-race relationships and work. Handsome Justin Min lets Ben scowl and twist on his own hook in a way that evokes simultaneous feelings of both sympathy and you-deserved-that righteousness. Ben’s closest friend, Alice (Sherry Cola) initially seems to be as stuck as he does, unable to find a girlfriend, and the two share a particular brand of humour and grumpy outlook. Alice, though, like Miko (Ally Maki), has forward momentum and both actresses give life and personality to their respective parts. The other characters, including Timothy Simons as Leon, Jacob Batalon as Gene, Sonoya Mizuno as Meredith, Tavi Gvison as Autumn, and Debby Ryan as Sasha, all elevate their roles in ways that create dimensionality. In particular, Timothy Simons’ cameo is hilarious with his eastern-enlightened cultish reactions.

3 people in new york
Justin Min as Ben, Ally Maki as Miko, Timothy Simons as Leon in SHORTCOMINGS. Photo credit Jon Pack. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

In directing, Park let’s his influences hang out. The film shows a connection to Wes Anderson’s work with its wide angle shots, music choices, and division into chapters complete with titles shown in that particular Anderson-like font against pastel backgrounds. Yet Shortcomings isn’t as romantic, as detail-rich, or as philosophical as an Anderson film. It also shows a connection to Woody Allen and Todd Solondz with its use of real life situations and responses as the heart of its humour and its anti-hero lead, but it lacks the dark critique of human relationships and segments of American society that is present in the films of both.

All in all, this is an enjoyable film with a strong cast, clever lines, and some good observational comedy. It’d make a good sleeper hit, the kind of film that tours artsy film festival circuits, but is limited by its own lack of specific purpose.

Shortcomings is in theatres starting August 4.

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