How Always Be My Maybe is redefining the rom-com heroine
My favorite romantic comedy is When Harry Met Sally. I first saw it when I was 14 and rewatched it so many times that I could quote Nora Ephron’s entire smart, “baby fishmouth”-filled script by heart (and I still can). When I looked into the future, I pictured myself as Sally Albright: a journalist living in New York City, going on dates at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and having brunch with my girlfriends in Central Park.
And my vision came true. I moved cross country from California to New York. I became a journalist (and landed a New York Times byline). My girlfriends and I can’t afford to brunch in Central Park, but we do brunch outside in Queens. And like Sally Albright, at 31 years old (the same age she was in When Harry Met Sally), I seem to be perennially single. “When are you going to get married?” is a constant question my mom asks me whenever I visit her. And like Sally, I have called myself “difficult,” “too structured,” and “completely closed off,” to describe why I just can’t seem to do the thing that’s come easily to most of my girlfriends: find a life partner.
Rom-coms are great at telling women that there’s something wrong with us, and that’s why we can’t find love. After all, think of all the rom-coms that you love: Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, Sex and the City, Grease. In all of those films, the heroine usually has to change something about herself—her ambition, her cynicism, her rigidity—in order to keep a man. But, of course, the man never has to change. Sure, he may be a liar, or a slacker whose ambition doesn’t match hers, but he teaches her how to truly live. And that’s why she must keep him at all costs, even if the cost is her true self.
Wong’s character in the movie, Sasha Tran, shares the same last name as me, something I never thought would happen in a Hollywood movie.
That means when the credits rolled at the end, I immediately wanted to watch it again. Because it told me something so simple, something no other rom-com has ever told me: There is nothing wrong with you.
Wong and Park said they were inspired by When Harry Met Sally, but just as that movie was revolutionary for how it depicted male and female friendships in 1989, Always Be My Maybe is groundbreaking for how it depicts heterosexual relationships 30 years later.
In Always Be My Maybe, Wong plays a celebrity chef and restauranteur named Sasha Tran who at first seems to be the typical heroine: a woman with a high-powered job who is dissatisfied with her life and eats meals alone. Sasha returns home to San Francisco to open a new restaurant and runs into her childhood sweetheart, Marcus Kim, and, Sweet Home Alabama-style, she discovers that the hometown she ran away from wasn’t so bad after all. Neither is the guy she left behind.
If this was a ‘90s rom-com, Sasha would realize that her N.Y.C. life of red carpets and Michelin-star restaurants is shallow compared to the more home-cooked Chinatown of San Francisco. She would happily marry the slacker with no ambition and open up a restaurant that only costs one dollar sign on Yelp.
Except this is not a ‘90s rom-com.
This is 2019. And women aren’t asking ourselves if we can have both a career and a man.
Considering almost 64 percent of American adults are single, these days a woman is more likely to pursue a career over pursuing a man. And Sasha does the same. When Marcus calls her a sell-out for making Vietnamese food for “rich white people,” and shares that he is uncomfortable “holding her purse” during red carpet events, she responds with, “What’s wrong with you supporting me? No one would question it if it was the other way around.” Sasha doesn’t call herself difficult. She contemplates having a baby on her own, and flies back to New York City without Marcus.
That’s because Sasha’s real journey in Always Be My Maybe isn’t about trying to find love—it’s trying to find home. She is trying to figuring out a marriage, but it’s not the matrimonial kind; it’s how to marry her high-end cuisine with the home-cooking she grew up with. And at the end of the movie, she figures it out: a restaurant featuring Korean dishes taught to her by Marcus’s mom, because the Kims’ house was the only place she ever felt at home.
And when Marcus comes around with his grand gesture (as men do in rom-coms), he doesn’t ask her to marry him. He does something even more progressive, he asks: “Can I hold your purse for you?” She inspires him to move out of his parents’ house and to actively pursue his music career. For once, the man changes for the woman, not the other way around. And it’s only when he chooses to accept her as she is that she forgives him.
In 2019, when single women outnumber single men and we are a powerful voting block, the question shouldn’t be: “Why can’t she slow down?” It should be, “How can he keep up with her?” Always Be My Maybe accepts its heroine wholeheartedly. Her ambition and success isn’t a liability, it’s an integral part of who she is. As Marcus’s dad notes, “There’s no one else like her.”
I hope young girls growing up today will love Always Be My Maybe as much as I loved When Harry Met Sally. I hope they will learn there’s nothing wrong with wanting a partner and children, but there’s also nothing wrong with putting yourself and your career first. Because as Always Be My Maybe makes it clear, if you’re going to share your life with someone, make sure it’s someone who will hold your purse for you.