Netflix has been doing a good job in terms of creating content with diversity and woke perceptions in general.
The latest movie, ‘Always Be My Maybe’ is one such example, staring Ali Wong and Randall Park.
We have seen these two several times before but rarely as the protagonists of the story with their own fully developed characters. So, absolutely refreshing to see talented and amazing actors like them to come on full display rather than remain side pieces. Their acting was on point, the screenplay and story were entertaining and very millennial, very relevant for 2019. All the side characters were also funny, smart and did an amazing job at moving the story forward.
The theme though, which rarely is seen in English films or any cinema worldwide for that matter is that of a middle-class man, dating a high profile celebrity woman.
The film does a good job of showing how the two different lifestyles just don’t mix and the clashes are hilarious.
Marcus is a very vanilla, very sweet but scared man. Maybe losing his mother at a young age made him stay comfortable by his dad, in that very same neighborhood. He is a talented singer but lacks ambition. He doesn’t want to try new things, do anything adventurous or take any chances.
Sasha, on the other hand, is a celebrity chef who is innovating traditional Korean/ Chinese cuisine and taking it to the next level where a plate costs four figures worth of money. She does not like to stay in one place, she takes chances, she is successful and does not apologize for her money or fame. With all that fancy, high profile life though comes a lot of pretentiousness. She herself has that regular girl vibe but to be at that level of success and deal with a wealthy clientele, she has created a fake fancy version of herself that she blends easily with her real self. She has felt neglected as a kid when her immigrant parents used to be busy working and she had to look after herself. That seems to have made her stand for herself in a good way, though she resents being neglected as a kid.
Sasha and Marcus were neighbors and as kids and had grown fond of each other. So there is already a pre-existing affection there. Maybe this is what holds the story together because otherwise, would we believe that a celebrity hotshot chef is with a middle-class man?
Don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that no wealthy high profile, famous person has ever dated or married a person who is not as famous or wealthy.
What I am saying is that how many times have we seen this for real or in TV and films as fiction? I personally am aware of plenty of women who were great at studies, got amazing grades, medical and engineering degrees and today I see them washing their husbands’ underwear and dishes. If this was just a one-off instance, then I might tell myself it is no big deal. But the cases I see are about 98% approximately.
Speaking of films and TV, we have always seen the wife or girlfriend following the man around. The guy is the one with an important career or a mission. And the woman is the cheerleader standing on the sidelines. Women have always been nurturing wives and mothers who are just a piece in the success of a man.
Take Julia Roberts’ two films for instance.
In Notting Hill, she is the celebrity, the rich woman falling in love with the regular guy Hugh Grant, who plays the role of a book shop owner. The theme of her fame and wealth is constantly in conflict with the man’s ego. Just look at the question on the poster- Can the most famous star in the world fall for the man in the street. Wow. Have you ever seen this question where the man is famous and the woman is from the street? Barely ever, because that is the NORM.
In Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts is playing the role of a prostitute who is picked up by a wealthy Richard Gere for a night that turns into a week and they fall in love. The wealth and fame of the guy is no impediment to the woman there. She is thrilled at the amenities and luxuries. In the end, you see her going along with the wealthy guy without there being any conflict with her ego or self-respect.
People say that our media and entertainment is the mirror of our society. It is hard to say that we have these unsaid rules that the man has to be wealthier, taller, older than the woman, were created by media or society first. But they certainly exist in both realms.
If not, why do I constantly hear ‘no man wants a woman that successful, so dial down your ambitions’? And if and when a woman is more successful than a man, why is the world judgmental and harsh towards the man? Why does the man himself feel small and unappreciated or grumpy about not being in the spotlight?
Marcus has no ego issues or does he? He feels bad when Sasha refers to him as a ‘regular’ guy, holding the purse of his woman while the world’s eyes are on her.
But you also see him not choosing to follow Sasha to New York simply because his only family, his father, his friends, his band, his dads business, everything required him to stay where he was.
I guess we can say it’s both and it takes a while for him to get used to being OK with standing on the sidelines.
My wish is that there were more men out there who did not crush their women’s ambitions and do not make this an ego or manliness issue that their wives earn more than them.
This theme was slightly discussed in The Big Bang Theory where Amy and Bernadette discuss hiding their money or awards from their husbands so they do not feel that their wives are more successful than them. Similarly, at one point when Penny makes more money than Leonard, he gets weird too.
Time and again we see this thing. Men used to be the breadwinners for their families while women stayed home, cooked and made babies. This was in the past though.
While all our entertainment is highly tilted towards this ‘men being the breadwinner’ narrative, the millennials have made some strides in changing this. The film ‘The Intern’ starring Anne Hathaway and Robert DiNero was one such for instance. Anne was a founder of her fashion brand and her husband was a stay at home dad. And they were happy with their arrangement because it worked.
I cannot put enough emphasis on the importance of changing this ‘man is the higher one, guardian, head of the family, breadwinner’ narrative.
Girls do much better than boys at school, we have seen this for several years in several surveys. Yet by the time they reach college or graduate, their numbers in the workforce decline drastically.
Motherhood takes its toll at one point and lack of proper maternity policies are also to blame. Everything is rigged in favor of male employees. When they make bigger families, they are given more benefits, higher positions and are seen as stable people, as seen in plenty of films and women, on the other hand, are penalized for having babies.
Netflix and a few other movie makers are changing this narrative, whether it is through subtle rom-com type films like ‘Always Be My Maybe’ (which isn’t a serious, in-depth feminist film of a woman’s fight or struggle) or more serious ones here and there. As a woman, I can only hope that this narrative seeps in the societal expectations too. Serious films on themes like this have their own space. But plenty of people get sidelined or purposefully dislike such films as they see it as ‘women-centric’ (which for them is a bad thing). Hence this idea needs to sneak in mainstream films, all kinds of films, like parents, hide medicine in a banana to feed their kid.
Social changes like these move at a glacial speed and in a world where little girls are exiled to huts while on their periods, one might be thankful to be in some part of the world where we at least get to go out and work. But we cannot get stuck with being satisfied with the crumbs of societal respect. Many men I know, send their wives to work in the garb of being progressive, while their true intent is to benefit from her salary because of the inflation in the economies all around the world. But they show off and applaud themselves that they ‘allow’ their wives to work.
These same men also flirt with other women because, after work, this wife of theirs comes home, helps kids with homework, cooks food and goes to bed late at night after putting everyone to bed. So, while the man is ‘allowing’ the woman to work outside the home, the entire household is still the wife’s responsibility. The poor woman who was earlier handling all household chores and was the primary parent and primary caregiver to the elderly is now also laboring outside the home. How is this of any benefit to her?
This Netflix film was an entertaining light note romantic comedy but I think the themes were such that we need to discuss and ponder over and urge people around us to move towards valuing women’s labor in the way Sasha’s work is valued. She is unapologetic about her ambitions, her success, her money and doesn’t give up on that crucial part of her just because the guy is too egotistical to deal with it. Successful women often are put in that spot where they are forced to choose between love and ambition.
Ambition ain’t going anywhere but if the guy really loves you, he would NEVER put you in that spot. Just saying.