Shortcomings: A Story About Growing Up Swathed In A Funny Love Rom-Com [Sundance Review]

Shortcomings still of Ben (Justin H. Min) and Alice (Sherry Cola) staring in surprise and discomfort.

Shortcomings starts the witty humor fast, bringing self-awareness about identity and representation packed tightly into its 91-minute runtime. Playing at Sundance Film Festival, the story follows an aspiring, judgmental defunct film director who traverses the dating scene when he and his girlfriend take a break. Written by and based on a graphic novel by Adrian Tomine and directed by Randall Park, it’s an easy watch with sharp dialogue. Shortcomings is about maturing into adulthood, a feat that often occurs after you’re an adult.  

The opening makes you groan until you realize this is a movie within a movie. It’s a parody of Crazy Rich Asians playing onscreen. As the credits roll, everyone rips into applause. Everyone cheers except Ben (Justin H. Min), who looks physically uncomfortable. His girlfriend beside him, Miko (Ally Maki), co-organized the event. So she claps excitedly too. After leaving, Ben complains about the harmful parts of the film; capitalism and elitist rom-com. Though valid, Miko points out its still representation and helps pave the way for future opportunities. 

In Shortcomings, Ben’s The Annoying Friend

Shortcomings still of Ben (Justin H. Min) and Alice (Sherry Cola) staring in surprise and discomfort.
A still from Shortcomings by Randall Park, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Ben regales his friend Alice (Sherry Cola) with the experience the next day. As they chat, audiences see more of Ben’s character. Ben’s rude. He does not feel discrimination is an issue—after all, he went to a white school. Topping that, Ben has a white woman obsession. In rapid time, Ben sets himself as an unlikeable person. As Shortcomings plays, there’s little sympathy as his world falls apart. But there is entertainment. 

Quickly analyzing and criticizing everyone around him, Ben needs to turn sharp awareness on himself. He’s one of those people who think being honest is synonymous with being mean, sarcastic, and condescending. He’s the epitome of “people in glass houses.” If that wasn’t enough, the way Ben gaslights Miko later is infuriating. 

When They Say, “Don’t Worry About It,” Worry

Shortcomings takes a brilliant look at the downward spiral of a relationship. One of the truest statements about relationships is that the time to worry is when your partner is silent. When a partner stops arguing about what matters to them, it heralds a breakup. After Ben’s gaslighting behavior the night before, he tries another common tactic; splitting the blame. Before he can finish speaking, Miko tells him not to worry about it. Ben does not realize that it is a death knell. 

Later, Miko tells him she has a three-month internship opportunity in New York City. After discussing it, they decide to take a time out. Ben’s happy at first. Now he can explore his white women kink. So Ben dives into dating his white coworker. Throughout the film, Ben makes mistake after mistake. His character screams hypocrite. But some harsh lessons are in store for Ben.  

Not Your Average Rom-Com

Shortcomings image of director Randall Park
Randall Park, director of Shortcomings, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Randall Park understands pop culture plus the beats and hallmark moments of rom-com. He adeptly uses them to subvert viewers’ expectations. Tropes and critical moments like a second chance at love, complete with running across the streets, make lively appearances. Even movie references and cameos make appearances. Such as theater worker Gene, played by actor Jacob Batalon from Marvel’s Spiderman, spewing his affection for all Marvel films and Spiderman. Shortcomings is aware and witty as it looks at dating and maturing. 

Using romantic beats and comedy, Shortcoming makes a story that is more than both. It flips it into an account about maturing as an adult and human being to stunning effect. Sharp wit with genuine emotions plus recognizable experiences solidifies this entertaining coming-of-age late tale as a must-see. The happy ending is not the be-all-end-all. Becoming a better person is the goal. 

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