Ben is a failed film student who spends his days managing an arthouse movie theater and watching Criterion discs such as Ozu’s “Good Morning.” He can’t fathom a world where he isn’t the prime arbiter of taste. Much to his chagrin, however, Ben loves white women. His attraction is tested when he hires the oddball performance artist Autumn (Tavi Gevinson) to work the ticket window at the theater. Will he cheat on his girlfriend, Miko? If he, along with the premise, comes off as loathsome, that’s sorta the point.
“Shortcomings” is a wickedly funny, absorbing character study and solo feature directorial debut by actor Randall Park (“Fresh off the Boat”). In the hands of Park, Adrian Tomine’s graphic novel (adapted here by Tomine) finds cutting new dimensions in the miserabilism of an unabashed asshole.
It works because the film fully embraces the wretched unlikability of Ben. Park worms through Ben’s many relationship troubles: He gets with Autumn, for instance, and then turns his sights to the politically charged Sasha (Debby Ryan), endangering each with his caustic humor. Min savors the script’s savage barbs and quick sarcastic one-liners. You can never tell if or when you’re seeing the real Ben. The same goes for the women he dates. They initially like his corrosive wit, believing it’s a charming feature rather than an unfixable glitch. Surely, more lies beneath the surface? But there is no there, there. And Min, who found critical acclaim as the android in “After Yang,” demonstrates his immense range as he plays with Ben’s surface-level features with the exhilaration of a man dancing on an electric fence.
The other major highlight in the cast is Sherry Cola as Ben’s loud, gregarious Lesbian best friend, Alice. The film’s heart is the balancing act between Alice and Ben’s friendship, including open dinner talks and double-teaming at parties. She puts up with his idiocy as he sometimes acts as her beard for her traditional Korean parents. When Miko moves to New York City for an internship, Alice, recently transplanted to the big apple herself, allows Ben to stay with her as he searches for Miko. But Ben is poison to everything he touches.