Screened at 2023 Sundance Film Festival: Shortcomings Offers a Very Human Experience

by Dasun Panapitiya ‘24

Shortcomings screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

The Asian-American experience is one of nuance. The coexistence between Asian-Americans and every other type of person in the melting pot that is America is very complex, and director Randall Park is able to convey it amazingly in his film, Shortcomings. His debut feature follows Ben Tanaka (Justin H. Min), a failed film student and theater owner who grapples with the implications of race and culture in the dating scene, as well as the realization of his dreadful personality. 

Shortcomings is an adaptation of a graphic novel of the same name by Adrian Tomine, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. It premiered on January 21 in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. The film explores Asian-American empowerment by highlighting the flaws in a person rather than their perfections. In this case, every character has some kind of shortcoming, with Ben having the most issues. It expresses how human all the characters are rather than how most films would try to empower a marginalized group by putting them on some kind of pedestal. While this way of empowerment does give these groups a figure of power to look up to, it also makes the characters feel very inhuman, or very impossible to reach, which may bring the wrong message in most cases.  

Not only does Shortcomings brilliantly explore societal issues like racial politics and dating culture, but it also has some basic yet interesting characterization. The movie makes sure to let the viewer know of that at nearly every point, which may get annoying at points, but it still makes Ben a very interesting character. He pushes everyone away and is a bad influence to people around him. Despite the exaggerated personality, Ben is the perfect example of a character that people should learn from by not adhering to his toxic personality. What makes these characters very interesting is definitely the actors. Min’s performance is amazing. However, the best performance is by Sherry Cola who plays Ben’s queer bestfriend Alice Kim. Cola is very funny, and brings a sort of break to the serious story, while also maintaining a very well explored character. 

Shortcomings doesn’t experiment enough with its comedic-dramatic elements to make it stand out from others like it. The biggest highlight of this film, however, is the way that this film covers many deep and important themes all at once. A definite recommendation to people who like rom-com style movies and messages on societal issues.

Grade: B-