Synopsis : Ben, a struggling filmmaker, lives in Berkeley, California, with his girlfriend, Miko, who works for a local Asian American film festival. When he’s not managing an arthouse movie theater as his day job, Ben spends his time obsessing over unavailable blonde women, watching Criterion Collection DVDs, and eating in diners with his best friend Alice, a queer grad student with a serial dating habit. When Miko moves to New York for an internship, Ben is left to his own devices, and begins to explore what he thinks he might want.
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama, Lgbtq+
Original Language: English
Director: Randall Park
Producer: Jennifer Berman, Howard Berman, Howard Cohen, Eric d’Arbeloff, Michael Golamco, Margot Hand, Hieu Ho, Randall Park
Writer: Adrine Tomine
Release Date (Theaters): Limited
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Production Co: Tango Entertainment (II), Roadside Attractions, Topic Studios, Picture Films, Imminent Collision
Exclusive Interview with Director Randall Park
Q: This is based on a graphic novel of the same name by Adrian Tomine. What elements of the book spoke to you that made you decide to tackle this project?
Randall Park: The thing that most attracted me to the story was just how real it felt, how authentic it was. When I was around that age, it just felt very real to my life and the things that me and my friends would talk about and the places we would go. In that sense, I think it was something that I was excited to put on screen.
Q: Do you think it would have been difficult to make this type of independent movie if it didn’t have the success of “Crazy Rich Asian” at the Box Office and the Oscar sweep of “Everything Everywhere All at Once”?
Randall Park: For sure, yes. But it was “Crazy Rich Asians” in particular [that helped], because we were already in production before “Everything Everywhere All at Once” came out. But definitely, we wouldn’t have been able to make this movie without the success of these Asian American projects that came before it.
Q: Adrian Tomine’s screenplay particularly reflects a cynicism to the characters. How much did you inject your own ideas into the script?
Randall Park: With Adrian, I got hired on as a director. He and I would meet and talk regularly, discuss the screenplay and develop it to make it more modern, but also to make it more of a movie and less of a direct adaptation of the book. We wanted the movie to stand on its own. That meant fleshing out the characters a little bit more and making sure that we had a fulfilling cinema experience.
Q: Sometimes, Ben’s character is very critical and can even be racist. How did you manage to make him still likable? How did you work it out with Justin Min to find that difficult balance so the audience can relate to him?
Randall Park: One of the biggest challenges of the movie was to make sure that the lead character of Ben is somebody that the audience is not only willing to stick with for an hour and a half, but also is someone that the audience can understand. I think a lot of that fell into the casting of the character. We saw a lot of actors for the role of Ben. Actually, for all of the roles, we saw a lot of actors who were interested in playing these characters — a lot of really great actors too.
But for us, it was really about finding an actor who could convey the vulnerability underneath all the anger and opinions and everything else to really have a sense of why this character is the way he is. Because there’s a lot of sadness underneath him, it was important to find an actor who could convey all of that on top of being someone who is funny, can be charming and could be all of the other aspects that makes him an interesting and complex character.
Q: Could you also talk about the casting of the two main actresses? They really made for very colorful characters — they didn’t play them with just one tone.
Randall Park: Sherry Cola plays Alice and Ally Maki plays Miko. Those were two actors that I knew before we even started on this project. I was familiar with their work and liked them as people. I got along with them and was friends with them. Going into the casting of our movie, I had already wanted Sherry to play Alice. Thankfully, she read the role and was very excited at the possibility of playing the character. Ally is a friend I’ve known for a long time and have always known she was such a talented actor and thoughtful actor.
She was someone also eager to play a role like this, a more complex role, a character who is flawed and more than one note. We saw a lot of actors for both parts but they just stood out as people who brought a little more to the character in terms of the depth and their characters’ back stories. They really put a lot of work into preparation.
Once they were cast along with Justin Min, it was just a lot of conversations about the characters, the story, the tone of the movie, and what we were going for in terms of performance. We also had a period of rehearsals that was very helpful. That gave them the opportunity to work with each other and to feel out each other’s chemistry. And, thankfully, right off the bat, they all got along with each other and were immediately like friends. So that was very helpful because the support they had for one another was really a beautiful thing.
Q: In this film, Ben [Min] is the manager of the theater. If you happen to be a manager or owner of the film theater, what actor or director retrospective would you have in the theater?
Randall Park: Oh, you mean what actor or director retrospective would I have if I was the manager of the theater? I definitely would go with the classics for me. I’d have a series on Truffaut or Cassavetes — their movies were referenced in “Shortcomings.” I like the work of Noah Baumbach because his work is very influential on Greta Gerwig, and her work is very influential to our movie. I probably have a series of all of those directors.
Q: What’s amazing about this film is that everybody has a valid point even if one disagrees with it. Explain about the dynamics over the conversations they encountered, which we rarely are shown within the Asian community that does that.
Randall Park: For me, It was really a matter of making it feel as authentic and real as possible because just being in this community, none of these conversations are new to me. These are the kind of conversations that I’ve heard for many years, so what was important to me was making sure that these conversations felt real and that every opinion felt appropriate to and justified by that character. The most important thing going into the movie was how authentic and real it felt. I wanted it to feel how much of a slice of life it is. I wanted it to feel like all of the conversations that take place felt like conversations that I’ve had and that I’ve heard during my life.
Here’s the trailer of the film.