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Ben (Justin H. Min) is a snobby cinephile and Japanese-American living in Berkeley, California. He's the kind of guy who, at the beginning of “Shortcomings,” dismisses the crowd-pleasing Asian action film he watches at a movie theater with his girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki) on arrogant grounds. Miko loves the representation on screen, believing it’ll lead to greater opportunities for Asian-American filmmakers. Ben doesn’t see the wonder “in a garish mainstream rom-com that glorifies the capitalistic fantasy of vindication through wealth and materialism.” He can barely hide his disdain for the picture when he meets its giddy filmmaker.  

Ben is a failed film student who spends his days managing an arthouse movie theater and watching Criterion discs such as Ozu’s “Good Morning.” He can’t fathom a world where he isn’t the prime arbiter of taste. Much to his chagrin, however, Ben loves white women. His attraction is tested when he hires the oddball performance artist Autumn (Tavi Gevinson) to work the ticket window at the theater. Will he cheat on his girlfriend, Miko? If he, along with the premise, comes off as loathsome, that’s sorta the point. 

“Shortcomings” is a wickedly funny, absorbing character study and solo feature directorial debut by actor Randall Park (“Fresh off the Boat”). In the hands of Park, Adrian Tomine's graphic novel (adapted here by Tomine) finds cutting new dimensions in the miserabilism of an unabashed asshole. 

It works because the film fully embraces the wretched unlikability of Ben. Park worms through Ben’s many relationship troubles: He gets with Autumn, for instance, and then turns his sights to the politically charged Sasha (Debby Ryan), endangering each with his caustic humor. Min savors the script’s savage barbs and quick sarcastic one-liners. You can never tell if or when you’re seeing the real Ben. The same goes for the women he dates. They initially like his corrosive wit, believing it’s a charming feature rather than an unfixable glitch. Surely, more lies beneath the surface? But there is no there, there. And Min, who found critical acclaim as the android in “After Yang,” demonstrates his immense range as he plays with Ben’s surface-level features with the exhilaration of a man dancing on an electric fence.

The other major highlight in the cast is Sherry Cola as Ben’s loud, gregarious Lesbian best friend, Alice. The film's heart is the balancing act between Alice and Ben’s friendship, including open dinner talks and double-teaming at parties. She puts up with his idiocy as he sometimes acts as her beard for her traditional Korean parents. When Miko moves to New York City for an internship, Alice, recently transplanted to the big apple herself, allows Ben to stay with her as he searches for Miko. But Ben is poison to everything he touches. 

While “Shortcomings” aims at identity, particularly Ben’s inability to be comfortable with his attractions—which causes him to default into an oppressed versus oppressor stance—the film relies on keen jokes to make a punchy mood. The tight dialogue runs the gamut from quips about experimental music and international and blockbuster cinema (“Snowpiercer is a sequel of Willy Wonka” is a theory one theater worker shares with another) to gags concerning representational movies and assimilation.

The film doesn’t break new ground in the genre, hewing close to rom-com tropes that’d feel at home in Judd Apatow’s late aught works. When the raw emotional outbursts need to flourish, Park can also slip into less-than-flattering coverage coated by less-than-snappy editing. Luckily, this isn’t a picture that lives and dies on big fights or charged monologues. 

Even when you expect “Shortcomings” to land on a redemptive note, it surprises you. Park doesn’t pull the easy lever. Instead, the film’s ending is far more truthful to the character than you’d expect in your usual rom-com because the happiness of others doesn’t bank on Ben’s evolution. In fact, their joy is firmly separate. Such honesty allows Park’s vision, comedic sensibilities, and fruitful work with actors to remain indelible even in a familiar package.   

Now playing in theaters. 

Robert Daniels

Robert Daniels is an Associate Editor at Based in Chicago, he is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) and Critics Choice Association (CCA) and regularly contributes to the New York TimesIndieWire, and Screen Daily. He has covered film festivals ranging from Cannes to Sundance to Toronto. He has also written for the Criterion Collection, the Los Angeles Times, and Rolling Stone about Black American pop culture and issues of representation.

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Film Credits

Shortcomings movie poster

Shortcomings (2023)

Rated R for language throughout, sexual material and brief nudity.

92 minutes


Justin H. Min as Ben

Sherry Cola as Alice

Ally Maki as Miko

Tavi Gevinson as Autumn

Debby Ryan as Sasha

Sonoya Mizuno as Meredith

Stephanie Hsu as Mrs. Wong

Ronny Chieng as Mr. Wong

Jacob Batalon as Gene

Timothy Simons as Leon

Theo Iyer as Jason

Randall Park as Ji-hun


Writer (based on the graphic novel by)





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