This review of Shortcomings contains mild spoilers.
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Ben (Justin H. Min, After Yang) is a film snob, a struggling filmmaker, and an asshole. He is the manager of a local cinema — and has an obsession with blonde white women. He checks them out when he’s out with his girlfriend, only watches porn that features them, and hires them at his job even if they are unqualified. He has a whole-ass girlfriend, Miko (Ally Maki, Toy Story 4), who he isn’t really supportive of and doesn’t seem to like very much. She’s Asian, politically driven, and high-key tired of his shit. After a big fight where she calls him out and asks him to finally admit that he doesn’t really want her, she heads to NYC for a gig. He uses the time to explore his desire for white women (even though they aren’t broken up) and tries to figure out why he wants what he wants.
I promise you this isn’t my read on the film lol, it’s literally in the description notes of this Randall Park directorial debut. Ben has a best friend, Alice (Sherry Cola, Good Trouble), who is a dyke that is almost as insufferable as he is, two peas in a pod and all that. She’s in the closet to her family, not big on monogamy or honesty, and leaves broken hearts all around town.
These characters sound horrible, but they are meant to be; as you watch, you might despise them more and cringe at their decisions. When it came to Alice I actually dug that she wasn’t the greatest person, but the character (how she was written and her arc) felt lazy. The marketing made it seem like her story of using him as a beard was going to be central to the plot. In reality, it was mentioned but not really explored, BUT there is continuous dykin’ with the character so THERE IS THAT! She also wasn’t used as someone’s moral compass so THERE IS ALSO THAT!
Internalized racism is tough and it sucks. The amount of unlearning you have to do is wild, but you have to want to do it. This movie is written in a way where it’s like they don’t want us to think internalized racism is the issue Ben is facing, he just likes what he likes and it’s everyone else that’s making it a big deal. If that’s the case, fine — but make THAT movie. The movie where he isn’t gaslighting his girlfriend when she questions him on his desire, but instead tells her she’s right and they break up. The movie where he isn’t feigning anger when people stare at him when he’s holding hands with a white woman, but instead being happy when they stare because they think he has “leveled up” (his words not mine). Basically what I’m saying is, stand on your shit.
This movie feels too scared to say what it really wants to say. If they made a movie where the vibes were “I only desire white women and it has nothing to do with internalized racism and IDGAF what you think”, folks would be like, “Wow that’s weird but go off I guess.” I would also be like, “That’s weird” — but I’d respect it a whole lot more, ‘cos in its current state it’s tiptoeing around desire, fetishism, hypocrisy, and disposability, and it’s unnecessarily confusing.
I would like to know if I were going to see a movie where someone has an obsession with white women (again, this is not my take on what happens in the film! It is LITERALLY in the film description that gets sent out), is mean to his marginalized girlfriend, and then gets it chalked up to growing pains but… that’s just me.
It’s a new version of an old subject that has been talked about in certain communities forever. It’s literally a tale that’s old as time — but the acting is killer — so I guess it’s worth a watch.