6 Best Movies to Watch by Stephanie Hsu

Staff & contributors
It’s always tricky translating literature to screen. In Shortcomings’ case, it struggles to make its Berkeley and New York settings appear more lived-in than just a few postcard-like frames. You could also tell that the conversations it stirs up about things like representation and mixed-race relationships began in the early aughts, when the novel it was adapted from was first released. But those lapses are small and forgivable in the face of a lovely ensemble cast and a whipsmart script. It also takes a special kind of skill to make a character as fiercely unlikeable as Ben (Min) watchable, to hold up a mirror to the audience and make them stay. Thankfully, it's a skill that Tomine and first-time director Randall Park display with such grace. Ben, Alice (Sherry Cola), and Miko (Ally Maki) are flawed and often pathetic, but they’re also honest reflections of who we become when the demands of self-preservation and romantic openness clash. It’s a little unnerving to hear them verbalize what we've always feared about ourselves, but it’s also exhilarating, not to mention comforting, knowing that we're not alone in feeling this way. Shortcomings works because it doesn't confine itself to genre: it's a character study first, and a romantic comedy second.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adam Enright, Adrian Tomine, Ally Maki, Boran Anh, Debby Ryan, George Deihl Jr., Jacob Batalon, Jess Nahikian, Justin H. Min, Melanie J. Newby, Mike Cabellon, Nikhaar Kishnani, Randall Park, Ronny Chieng, Scott Seiss, Sheldon Best, Sherry Cola, Sonoya Mizuno, Stephanie Hsu, Tavi Gevinson, Theo Iyer, Timothy Simons

Director: Randall Park

Rating: R

True to its name, Joy Ride is a raucous delight that has everything you want out of a road trip comedy and more. There’s love, sex, adventure, and even music, but most of all there’s friendship, the interesting complexities of which are explored against the backdrop of race. There’s something meaningful keeping everything together at the core, and first-time director Adele Lim—helped by a strong script and cast—does an excellent job of holding it down. The film is also just plain funny. There are physical gags and of-the-moment jokes, plus a couple of insider quips made for and by the Asian community. But apart from the hilarity and tenderness, the film also delivers in the visual department: it looks gorgeous, not only because the characters are tourists who embark on a jet-setting adventure, but because of the inspired animation and vibrant editing. 

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alexander Hodge, Annie Mumolo, Ashley Park, Baron Davis, Chris Pang, Daniel Dae Kim, David Denman, Debbie Fan, Desmond Chiam, Isla Rose Hall, Kenneth Liu, Lori Tan Chinn, Meredith Hagner, Michelle Choi-Lee, Ronny Chieng, Sabrina Wu, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Timothy Simons

Director: Adele Lim

Rating: R

, 2023

Held back by awkward and uninspired musical numbers but otherwise a surprisingly funny and sweet animated comedy, Leo gets a lot of mileage out of being simply weirder than many of its direct-to-streaming contemporaries. As the titular lizard works through his cynicism by spending his last days helping others with their early years (a premise heartwarming enough to stand on its own), the film expresses itself through plenty of cutaway jokes and throwaway lines, excellent physical comedy, and a few particularly bizarre character designs. Everything is played in good fun though, and the movie's witty, easygoing personality allows it to overcome any limitations from its admittedly ordinary animation.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family, Music

Actor: Adam Sandler, Alex Quijano, Allison Strong, Andre Robinson, Andrew Morgado, Ashley Lambert, Ava Acres, Bill Burr, Blake Clark, Bryant Tardy, Carson Minniear, Cecily Strong, Chris Kattan, Chris Titone, David Wachtenheim, Heidi Gardner, Jackie Sandler, Janie Haddad Tompkins, Jaquita Ta'le, Jason Alexander, Jason Griffith, Jo Koy, Joel Marsh Garland, John Farley, Jonathan Loughran, Kelly Stables, Nicholas Turturro, Nick Swardson, Nikki Castillo, Noah Robbins, Paul Brittain, Rob Schneider, Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel, Rose Abdoo, Ryan Bartley, Ryun Yu, Sadie Sandler, Scott Menville, Sheila Carrasco, Shelby Young, Sonya Leslie, Stephanie Hsu, Sunita Param, Sunny Sandler, Terence Mathews

Director: David Wachtenheim, Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel

Rating: PG

This movie is a complete no-brainer.

It follows two assistants in busy New York City, both of them overworked and underpaid. They come up with a plan to set up their bosses (Set it Up) so that when their bosses finally take some personal time together, they could too. In a lot of ways, it’s the perfect argument to anyone who says that the rom-com genre is dead. It’s light, it’s easy, and it’s entertaining.

At the same time, there is a heartwarming vibe that’s not too cliché, and a couple of well-known actors — Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs — that help carry the plot. Don’t expect to be mind-blown but this film will leave you feeling content.

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Actor: Aaron Costa Ganis, Anna Suzuki, Annie Pisapia, Ching Hoh-Wai, Cody Calafiore, Doris McCarthy, Emilia Clarke, Evan Parke, Fabrizio Brienza, Glen Powell, Jaboukie Young-White, Jacqueline Honulik, Jake Robinson, Jeff Hiller, Joan Smalls, Jon Rudnitsky, Kate Middleton, Leonard Ouzts, Lucy Liu, Meredith Hagner, Noah Robbins, Paulie Deo Jr., Pete Davidson, Ralph Byers, Shana Solomon, Shyrley Rodriguez, Stacey Alyse Cohen, Stephanie Hsu, Taye Diggs, Tituss Burgess, Wai Ching Ho, Zoey Deutch

Director: Claire Scanlon

Rating: TV-14

From the moment it begins, The Monkey King hardly pauses to take a breath. The characters are always frantically jumping into the next scene, the action is nonstop, and the jokes, though juvenile, arrive one after the other. This is okay if you’re looking for a brisk viewing experience, but not so if you’re prone to vertigo. It moves at a relentless pace, which doesn’t just make the film a dizzying watch; it also robs the animation’s beautiful details of the time it needs to be appreciated. The movie’s core message, too, is buried under all the film’s pizzaz, which is a shame considering its refreshing pragmatism. When all the other kids’ movies are promoting courage and confidence, The Monkey King actually warns against the dangers of an inflated ego. The Monkey King is passable entertainment for the family, but with a better pace, it could’ve been great. 

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Kids

Actor: Andrew Kishino, Andrew Pang, Artemis Snow, BD Wong, Bowen Yang, David Chen, Dee Bradley Baker, Hoon Lee, James Sie, Jimmy O. Yang, Jo Koy, Jodi Long, Jolie Hoang-Rappaport, Kaiji Tang, Mark Benninghoffen, Robert Wu, Ron Yuan, Sophie Wu, Stephanie Hsu, Vic Chao

Director: Anthony Stacchi

Rating: PG