In Randall Park’s directorial debut Shortcomings, we are introduced to a Japanese American cinephile and a film school dropout, Ben Tagawa, who struggles to hide his disappointment while watching a mainstream American production with an Asian American cast. His girlfriend, Miko, believed such films were important for representation and that it would eventually help open doors to snobbish Asian American arthouse filmmakers such as Ben. According to Ben, the mainstream rom-com simply glorified the capitalist fantasy of absolving deep-rooted issues through wealth. While Ben made an important point, the conversation hinted at how they were unlike each other. She focused on the bigger picture while he was caught up in the intricacies. We gradually find out that Ben is a flawed man, and it is his inability to accept his shortcomings that becomes a challenge, not just in his romantic relationship but in his life in general.
Why did Miko leave for New York?
After spending six years together, Miko realized that certain inherent differences between her and Ben were almost impossible to resolve. Meanwhile, Ben discussed with his best friend, Alice, how Miko had changed over the years and how her sudden interest in representational politics and community bothered him. It was quite demeaning when he said that Miko actively participated in such events because the outlook itself had become a trend. He did not take into consideration the fact that she had evolved as an individual over the years and that she was intelligent enough to understand the nuances of her political position.
Ben was attracted to white women, and he always reduced it to a sort of fetishism. He was so caught up in the politics of an Asian American man dating a white woman that he ended up making the woman in question feel awkward. He found his attraction impossible to fit into the image he had built for himself. Even though it was obvious that he had a type, he was embarrassed to admit it. His browsing history gave away his obsession, and when Miko confronted Ben, he laughed it off.
Ben worked at an arthouse film theater, and a young, white, blonde-haired performance artist, Autumn, showed an interest in working at the counter. Ben was attracted to her, and Miko noticed how he avoided introducing her to the new employee at his workplace. Ben washed off the accusation by calling Autumn an attention-seeking hipster. Miko had caught Ben checking out white women on multiple occasions, and she was not comfortable with the idea that he was settling for her simply because he could not deal with the truth that he was obsessed with the Western media beauty standard. He called Miko crazy for accusing him of having a type, and that was when she realized she could not deal with him anymore.
The next morning, she informed Ben that she had been accepted into the internship program at the Asian American Independent Film Institute and that she intended to move to New York. Ben immediately stated that he was not willing to shift to the other side of the country. Miko admitted that she wanted to take a break from their relationship and that she wanted to start over in New York. Not having Miko around all of a sudden was a difficult change for Ben to cope with, but it also allowed him to stop with the pretense and try his luck with Autumn.
How did Ben’s life take shape after the breakup?
Ben looked forward to flings now that he and Miko were on a break. It was difficult for Ben to not pass a snarky remark on Autumn’s performance art and her installation idea, but he tried to be respectful once he realized that Autumn was serious about her craft. When Ben was about to kiss Autumn after she invited him to her place, Autumn moved away. The situation turned awkward, and at work the next morning, Autumn confessed that her body and mind were not in sync with how she felt about Ben. She could feel it in her body that he was not someone she wanted to get involved with. After the humiliating experience, Ben found hope in Sasha.
Ben met Sasha at a queer party, and while Alice warned him that she was bad news, Ben took a genuine interest in her. She was his type, and just like Ben, Sasha recently went through a breakup. They bonded almost immediately, and Ben felt secure enough to show his vulnerable side. We find out that Ben dropped out of film school to work on his craft, but the result was a disaster, and he realized that maybe he was not the next best director he assumed he would be. Perhaps his bitterness stemmed from his failure, and the thought of others moving on and doing their own thing made him feel hopeless about himself. His white girl fantasy finally came true with Sasha, and after a long time, he genuinely felt happy about himself.
Why did Sasha walk away from Ben?
Sasha started to feel the creep when, one day, Ben mentioned a guy staring at them with judgmental eyes. He believed that it was their interracial relationship that caught the stranger’s attention. Sasha was taken aback when Ben suggested that the stranger probably had white girl envy or was simply happy to see Ben with a white woman. Maybe for Ben, Sasha was a trophy he wanted to flaunt. He had always wanted to date a white woman, and now that it was finally happening, he believed that everyone around him was envious of his accomplishment. Ben somehow managed to compensate for his awkward remarks, but the entire incident stayed with Sasha. Ben continued to text Miko whenever he was at home alone. It was as if she were his safe haven, and deep down, he believed she was the one he wanted to build a future with.
The next time Sasha and Ben met after the awkward date, Sasha confessed that she was back with her ex-girlfriend, Pilar. Ben was filled with rage, and he accused Sasha of deceiving him. Possibly Ben considered Sasha his backup plan if things did not work out with Miko, but the thought of being second on Sasha’s list triggered him. Ben was a hypocrite, and he tried to make Sasha feel terrible about herself before she left the restaurant. But Sasha was not okay with Ben getting to say the final words. She knew that Ben would never come to realize that neither race nor sexuality played any role in their breakup, so before leaving, she made it clear that he was the reason why she decided to walk away. Ben had lost his job, his best friend had moved to New York, and his backup option was also gone. He no longer had any reason to stay in Berkley, so he decided to travel to New York and surprise Miko.
Why had Miko been lying to Ben?
Ben planned to live at Alice’s place, and he soon learned that she had moved in with her girlfriend, Meredith. Alice’s new girlfriend gladly provided Ben with accommodation, and for the first time, Alice seemed to be genuinely in love. Instead of being Alice’s cheerleader, Ben rained on her parade. He tried to bring up an embarrassing past incident during dinner that left Meredith quite scarred. Ben initially laughed it off when Alice explained how serious she was about her relationship. Alice cautioned Ben not to ruin her relationship with Meredith. After setting up boundaries, the two best friends headed out to find Miko.
After stalking her social media and tracking down a profile named Leon Designer, they found out that Miko had started a career in modeling. Upon reaching Leon Alexander’s store, they learned that he was a fashion designer, and Miko was a talent he discovered. Ben admitted that he would not have supported her decision if she had been honest about her interest in modeling. He decided to put it all in the past and got a bouquet to impress her. He was surprised to find out, after speaking to the desk at the Asian American Independent Film Institute, that Miko had never received an internship offer from the institute. He realized she had lied to him to end their relationship. To find her actual address, Ben called her from Alice’s phone and lied about a fake parcel he had to deliver. Ben and Alice waited outside her apartment to watch her walk out of the building in the arms of the designer.
At the end of Shortcomings, Ben admitted how he felt about interracial couples. The designer was a white man who spoke Japanese, and Ben believed that he found Miko attractive because he fetishized her. When it came to Asian men dating white women, he believed that the public perception is usually more positive because, in such a case, it is to the guy’s credit that he ended up with a white woman. The conclusions Ben came to were problematic, to say the least, and when Meredith tried to reason with him, stating how his assumptions could be based on his wounded ego, he lost his cool. The entire conversation resulted in Alice and Meredith getting into a fight.
Did Miko and Ben end up together?
During Shortcomings‘ ending, while going through Miko’s social media posts, Ben realized that one of the pictures was taken at their apartment when they were together. He immediately decided to confront her about it. He walked up to her when he saw her leaving her apartment building with her boyfriend. Ben accused Leon of sleeping with Miko on his bed, and to his surprise, Leon did not resort to an aggressive response. Leon suggested Ben and Miko sort out the issue by themselves and offered them a cool-headed discussion at his apartment. Upon entering Leon’s spacious apartment, Ben realized that Leon was financially a lot more stable than him. But instead of evaluating the possible reasons why Miko walked away, he made her feel guilty for moving on. Ben tried his luck on other people after they made the decision to take a break, but he humiliated Miko for having slept with another man. Thankfully, Miko was well aware of what Ben had been up to, and his hypocrisy became all the more obvious to her. Miko admitted that even on her worst days, she felt pity for him because he always managed to play the victim. His self-hatred, negativity, and lack of passion all contributed to Miko feeling stuck in their relationship. Ben never gave Miko any reason to stay, and when she decided to take a break, he did not try to stop her. But of course, none of the reasons were good enough for Ben, and all Miko had to say was that she was glad that she no longer had to have these conversations with him anymore.
Ben ultimately came to realize that he needed to work on himself before criticizing the world. He decided to leave for Berkley, but before doing so, he admitted that Meredith was right, and he apologized to her for having to see his worst self. As the rule of rom-com goes, the protagonist will make one last attempt to win over the woman he loves, and Ben does the same. He makes the decision to have one final meeting with Miko, but after witnessing her enjoying herself at the restaurant with Leon, he walks away. On his way home, Ben realized that often, the things that he criticized left a positive impact on people. Being open to possibilities and contrasting opinions is something that Ben has to learn over time. The people who got involved with Ben moved away from him in search of happiness. Ben was nothing but a bump in the road for them, and they did end up with people who genuinely cared about them. Ben’s criticism did not stop them from doing what they desired. They could move past the negativity, which helped them get closer to their goals. It was time for Ben to deal with his self-hatred and embrace failure. Instead of giving up on his dreams, hopefully, he will find the courage to give them another chance. But first, he needs to accept his flaws and work on them.