Shortcomings Parent Guide
Darkly funny but also depressing, this maturation tale provides plenty of painful moments and a weak, albeit authentic, conclusion.
Parent Movie Review
Having abandoned his dreams of being a filmmaker, Ben (Justin H Min) now manages a rundown theater while living with his girlfriend, Miko (Ally Maki) in her trust fund Berkeley apartment. The couple have started drifting apart so when Miko announces that she’s been selected for a film internship in New York, they agree to “take a break” for a few months.
Miko’s departure accelerates the downward slide in Ben’s life. Two attempted relationships burn out and his job is increasingly precarious. All he’s left with is his outspoken friend, Alice (Sherry Cola), who uses him as a fake boyfriend so her traditional Korean parents won’t discover that she’s a lesbian. When a chance encounter removes Alice from Ben’s orbit, he becomes increasingly desperate. But Miko isn’t returning his calls…
This is a difficult film thanks to the shortcomings of its protagonist. Ben is selfish, insecure, totally self-absorbed, and incapable of honest emotional communication (ironic, considering that he’s highly articulate). His good looks and agile mind aren’t enough to compensate for the character traits that lead him to repeatedly sabotage his relationships. He’s hard to like and that makes the movie hard to love.
The trailer might lead you to assume that Shortcomings is a relationship story but it’s really a maturation tale; an examination of Ben’s painful journey to honest self-assessment. It’s also a probing look at issues of race and identity. Is Ben’s penchant for blondes an aesthetic preference for golden hair or is it a sign of internalized racial self-hatred? The complexity of racial identification occurs in Ben’s life as a two-edged sword. For him, acknowledging racism can be both freeing – in recognizing the validity of his own experiences – and also frustrating – when he isn’t sure if he should be viewing an experience through a racial lens. This is the most interesting part of the film and provides more to think about than his tortured love life.
This introspective, darkly comic film isn’t aimed at a mass audience and its potential audience is further narrowed by its negative content. There are over 140 profanities in the script, 101 of which are sexual expletives. A naked man appears in two scenes, providing full rear nudity, and a porn website is briefly shown on a character’s laptop (without explicit detail). Other sexual content includes innuendo, straight and lesbian characters kissing, and implied sex. Scenes of smoking and alcohol consumption confirm the movie’s Restricted rating.
Even aside from the content issues, this is a frustrating film because it could be so much better. The exploration of race and identity is compelling and the relationships between the characters feel authentic. Miko’s assertion of her autonomy is a particularly rewarding moment in the story, but there aren’t enough moments like that. Watching Ben slog through a series of grey days while battling his own self-justification, rationalization, and self-absorption simply isn’t rewarding and the final payoff is weak, albeit credible. More humor and less angst would make for a better film; this one just feels like it needs to spend some time in therapy.
Directed by Randall Park. Starring Justin H. Min, Sherry Cola, Ally Maki. Running time: 92 minutes. Theatrical release August 4, 2023. Updated August 4, 2023
Watch the trailer for Shortcomings
Rating & Content Info
Why is Shortcomings rated R? Shortcomings is rated R by the MPAA for language throughout, sexual material and brief nudity.
Violence: There is a joking reference to suicide. A woman mentions kicking another woman in the groin: this is referred to on several occasions and a crude anatomical term is used.
Sexual Content: There are scenes of men and women kissing and of women kissing each other. A subplot revolves around a character’s lesbian orientation and her relationships. There is a brief view of a porn website on a laptop: there is no explicit nudity. A naked man appears in the film on two occasions with prolonged rear buttock nudity. A man and woman kiss passionately before embracing on the bed; sex is implied but not seen. A character uses a slang term for masturbation. Explicit mention is made to female genitalia.
Profanity: The script contains over 140 profanities, including 101 sexual expletives, as well as scatological curses, terms of deity, and mild profanities. Crude anatomical terms are used as are slang terms for male and female genitalia.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Main characters drink alcohol in social situations, sometimes to excess. A main character drives after drinking alcohol, but it is unclear how much he has had to drink and whether he’s impaired. An adult smokes cigarettes on a couple of occasions.
Page last updated August 4, 2023
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