It’s the weekend—and it’s the first weekend of SUMMER, for those keeping score. For some that means running out to rent a canoe or kayak or maybe climb a local hill for an inspired hike into nature or maybe take the mountain bike off the rack in the garage, grease up the gears, tighten the brakes, and find a local tree to crash into (if you’re around these parts, take the bear spray!).
Or perhaps your job, your tendency toward vampirism, or your incessant and not-heedless worries about skin cancer precludes any of this outdoorsy adventure, and you, like me, prefer the indoors. No mosquitoes, no SPF 100, and certainly no bears. (Well, depending on where you live. Just don’t leave cookies in your car and you should be fine.)
When all other avenues of productivity have been exhausted for any given day (read: when I’m too tired of looking at words to look at another word), I gravitate toward my darling friend Netflix. She never lets me down, even if we just spend another late night together watching The Office for the 84th time. (That episode where Jim proposes at the gas station—no, no, no! Wait! When Pam sprains her ankle in the volleyball game and they’re at that little hospital and then Jim calls Dwight to send in the subs because the doctor has just delivered Most Excellent News and the genius is that they never say the words YOU’RE PREGNANT, they just show Jim’s teary-eyed, ecstatic face … awwww!)
But if the most romantic episodes of The Office are not your jam, Netflix DOES offer a decent selection of romantic comedies. If you haven’t guessed already, I do enjoy a good romantic comedy.
Give these a try:
Always Be My Maybe
ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE (2019): Ali Wong, Randall Park (and Keanu Reeves as himself! No! Seriously!):
From IMDB: “A pair of childhood friends end up falling for each other when they grow up.”
Okay, that was the lamest summary ever—there’s so much more going on here! Ali Wong is famous for her hilarious, topical, biting standup act (check her out—two specials also on Netflix!), and her fans will be pleased to see that her turn in a longer theatrical narrative, as Sasha Tran, is heavy with the relevant wit that has made her a star. (She’s damn funny, you guys.)
Randall Park (Fresh Off the Boat) is perfect as Marcus, the boy next door and maybe even the one who got away—especially when Sasha shows up years later a HUGELY successful celebrity chef, engaged to the hyper-handsome Brandon (Daniel Dae Kim … purrrrr). The perceived perfection of Sasha’s life brings about an instant vulnerability, and even defensiveness, for Marcus—he compares his low-on-sparkle life working HVAC alongside his dad to Sasha’s blazing star. Seeing her again stirs up the proverbial pond in his chest, and while he spends a lot of screen time denying he still has feelings for Sasha, we all know it’s just Marcus needing to get straight in his head.
Because, duh, he still has feelings for Sasha.
As in any good romcom, Sasha and Marcus have to get twisted into knots and find a way to untie themselves—from other relationships, life complications, and personal demons—before they can move forward as anything resembling a couple with a future. I loved how the film offered a view of the Asian American community that stretched beyond the stereotypes perpetuated by Hollywood (and books); I loved how the filmmakers strayed from the Crazy Rich Asians vibe that pushes that fantasy narrative that every Asian is rich and driving Bentleys; and I love that part of it was filmed in Vancouver, BC, because we truly are a gorgeous city!
For a great review from an Asian American perspective, check out Diana Lu’s take from Plan A Magazine: https://planamag.com/we-love-everything-about-always-be-my-maybe-407d80ae92f9
Set It Up
SET IT UP (2018): Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs.
From IMDB: “Two young assistants in New York City realize they can make their lives easier by setting up their workaholic bosses to date. While trying to perpetuate this romantic ruse between their nightmare bosses, the assistants realize they might be right for each other.”
What a fun premise! Sure, you know before the film even starts that Harper (Deutch) and Charlie (Powell) are probably going to stumble into one another at some point in the story—that’s why we watch and read romcoms, after all; there is comfort in predictability. It’s the journey that titillates and engages us! And this journey doesn’t disappoint. It has those beats we’ve come to expect—the meet-cute, the snarky back-and-forth, the near-misses, and the building sexual tension that will ask the main characters to explore those darker parts of themselves that have prevented them from maintaining successful, long-lasting romantic relationships in the past.
I loved Lucy Lui’s turn as Kirsten, a hard-hitting, career-driven, winner-takes-all character—her ferocity makes those moments of vulnerability so much more believable. And Rick (Taye Diggs)—handsome, charismatic, successful—well, there’s not a lot of depth there, and pretty quick we see that he’s a bit of a scoundrel.
But none of that matters because the FUN is in the witty (and sometimes bawdy) banter and very-real-sounding dialogue (seriously, dialogue is so hard to nail both in films and books), as well as the manic chemistry that unfolds between Harper and Charlie as they scheme to get their bosses to hook up JUST so these two weary assistants can have a night off.
And news flash: the story isn’t about Kirsten and Rick—it’s about Harper and Charlie.
For those unfamiliar with the common tropes in romantic comedies, these stories are almost exclusively focused on the lives of the primary main characters, which means character development of secondary and tertiary characters are not the objective of the overall story. Think about Bridget Jones’s Diary—we see the most development in Bridget Jones. It’s her story. Sure, we see a wee bit of development with Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) and even less so with Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant)—but that’s because THIS IS BRIDGET’S STORY, not Darcy’s, not Cleaver’s.
Same goes here—this is primarily Harper’s story. We see some stretching and reshaping on the part of Charlie, but less so. Whereas a straight-up romance will bounce between points of view and will likely focus on development of BOTH leads, romcoms tend to have a central focus. And some funny shit. That’s what makes it a romantic comedy.
Also, that tagline: “Finding love takes some assistants.”
See what they did there? So clever.
If you’re looking for a romcom that ticks all the boxes, have a go at this one. I’ve watched it too many times to count!
Now — how about some historical romance without the comedy?
THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY (2018): Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Glen Powell (Again! I love this guy!), Matthew Goode, Penelope Wilton.
From IMDB: “In the aftermath of World War II, a writer forms an unexpected bond with the residents of Guernsey Island when she decides to write a book about their experiences during the war.”
Reviews on this were mixed, and I’m not going to give light to the more negative ones that picked apart acting chops or chemistry on the part of the two main actors because I really, really enjoyed this film. I’d had the novel on which the film is based (written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows) sitting on my shelf for a couple years and neglected to read it, but after watching the film, I wanted to do my own comparative study. That’s the first complaint you get after a movie-based-on-a-book comes out: “It was so different from the book.”
Yeah. Because movies are 90-120 minutes long and they can’t possibly include everything. Screen time is expensive.
Adapting screenwriters are tasked with the ridiculously tough challenge of extracting all the biggest threads from a novel and then weaving those threads into a cohesive narrative that will glue viewers to their seats. Critics of this film have whined about the omission of one particularly poignant plot line, but to have included it would’ve made the movie two or more hours long—not something Netflix can afford from a production standpoint, plus including this thread might have changed the overall tone of the movie. You’ll see what I mean if/when you read the book.
But I loved this cinematic presentation—I think it does a lovely job showing North Americans how residents of London and surrounding islands had to rebuild after the carnage of WWII (something we didn’t have to grapple with here because, while we sent our soldiers overseas, our cities weren’t bombed into oblivion* and Nazis didn’t show up to restrict our everyday lives**). The Second World War was different for those folks; this story gives us a glimpse into how. The attention to detail, from sets to costuming to the onion-skin paper Juliet Ashton (Lily James) types on, gets high marks from me.
And of course, the focus of this film is twofold: firstly, on the unfolding mystery the Guernsey cast is hell-bent on protecting; and secondly, on the building romance between Juliet, a smart, beautiful young writer, and Dawsey Adams, a handsome pig farmer charged with the care of four-year-old Kit. The Guernsey “family” that Juliet finds herself a part of is full of heart, heartbreak, and love for one another as they endeavor to protect that little girl and the story around how she came to be.
From a more character-focused perspective, as Juliet grapples with her private losses (she’s an orphan), she also faces the realization that the romantic relationship she’s involved in with brash-but-dashing American officer Markham Reynolds (Glen Powell), while idyllic to the onlooker, feels more like a hollow iceberg—pretty on top, not a lot going on under the surface. Plus those dreaded professional demons faced by so many writers—What if I’m terrible? What if what I’m writing doesn’t matter? Naturally, I related to young Juliet on those counts.
I have few complaints about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Sure, like I said, it’s different from the book, but I have zero hesitation in recommending it as a worthy expenditure of your movie-viewing time.
What movies/TV have caught YOUR fancy lately? Pop a comment below. Always looking for awesome recommendations!
(*Yes, I know about Pearl Harbor.)
(**Experiences of those forced into Japanese internment camps on US soil excepted here.)