Producers: Margot Hand, Randall Park, Hieu Ho, Jennifer Berman, Howard Cohen, Eric D’Arbeloff and Michael Golamco   Director: Randall Park   Screenplay: Adrian Tomine   Cast: Justin H. Min, Sherry Cola, Ally Maki, Debby Ryan, Tavis Gevinson, Sonoya Mizuno, Jacob Batalon, Timothy Simons, Scott Seiss,    Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Grade: B

Even if you don’t usually appreciate movies derived from graphic novels, you should make an exception for actor Randall Parks’s directorial debut, adapted by Adrian Tomine from his own 2007 original.   To sink to an obvious observation, “Shortcomings” has some, but overall it’s a droll dramedy that’s also surprisingly incisive as a character study of a guy who might be called a young curmudgeon.

Ben, played by Justin H. Min, comes across in the early going, oddly enough, like Larry David from “Curb Your Enthusiasm”—if David were a young Japanese-American who speaks in a deadpan monotone.  In the opening scene, accompanying his long-time girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki) in a screening at the Asian-American film festival where she’s a volunteer—a cheeky parody of “Crazy Rich Asians” with cameos by Stephanie Hsu and Ronny Chieng—he’s the only member of the audience who looks pained as the credits roll and the rest of the viewers are whooping and cheering.  When introduced to the director, he’s unable to summon up even the most anodyne expression of praise, leading Miko to castigate him back home for his constant negativity and snideness. She also calls him out for his proclivity for downloading photos of attractive white women from porn sites on his computer.  Not long afterward she tells him she’s accepted an offer of an internship with the festival in New York, which will take her to the Big Apple for three months.

Ben’s hostility to the conventional rom-com with Asian stars that Miko sees as a possible game-changer for Asian-American filmmakers is evidence that he’s a complete film snob: he manages a small theatre in Berkeley that specializes in art fare, and his own viewing choices at home are by directors like Ozu, Truffaut and Cassavetes.  (Extra points for those who can identify the various clips.)  His lobby workers, dorky Gene (Jacob Batalon) and Lamont (Scott Seiss), bicker over their favorite movies and show him little respect.  And when he hires a new ticket-seller, Autumn (Tavis Gevinson), a dippy would-be artist whose performance with an experimental theatre group he watches with horror, he doesn’t let his reaction stop him from showing an interest in her while Miko’s away.  Ben’s also, of course, an aspiring filmmaker, though thus far his attempts at scriptwriting have been dismal failures and he’s glumly concluded he’ll never be the next Éric Rohmer.

Ben’s only real friend appears to be Alice (Sherry Cola, the sparkplug in “Joy Ride”), a sharp-tongued grad student who uses him as a pretend boyfriend at family affairs in order to keep the fact that she’s gay from her ultra-Christian parents.  She’s as quick to point out his flaws as Miko, and warns him against taking up with Sasha (Debby Ryan), whom he meets at a party she drags him to.  But he doesn’t listen, only to be crushed and insulting after a few weeks when Sasha announces that she’s going back to her former girlfriend.  Meanwhile Alice gets expelled from school and announces she’s moving to New York too.

That’s not the end of Ben’s misfortunes.  His theatre is closed down (structural problems as well as poor attendance), and he’s disappointed that his staff show no regret after Gene breaks into his announcement to offer them jobs at another theatre where’s he’s going to become assistant manager.  Bereft of support, and frantic over Miko’s refusal to answer his voicemails, he contacts Alice to ask her to put him up in New York, hoping to track down Miko in person.  He finds Alice in a relationship with a briskly efficient academic named Meredith (Sonoya Mizuno), and crashes with them.  But his search for Miko reveals secrets she’s been keeping from him, secrets involving an imposing fashion designer named Leon (Timothy Simons).  The revelation forces him to take stock of what he’s made of his life, though whether he can alter his self-absorbed, ultra-critical mindset is uncertain.

The trajectory of “Shortcomings,” whose short chapters complete a nice portrait of a deeply flawed character goes through a series of small calamities that lead him to re-examine his attitudes, is hardly new, and ironically it leaves the picture open to the same sort of critique that Ben levels against the fictional rom-com he derides at the start.  But the familiarity is made easier to accept given the snappy dialogue and strong lead performances, especially by Min, who skillfully straddles the line between sympathetic and obnoxious, and Cola, whose rat-a-tat delivery can be exhausting but is, as in “Joy Ride,” energetically funny.  Among the rest of the expert ensemble, Batalon, Gevinson and Simons are standouts in smaller roles, but Maki does a good deal with the put-upon, conflicted Miko and Ryan is cheerfully attractive as the woman who doesn’t take long to see Ben at his worst.

Parks’s direction doesn’t show much imagination, but it’s adequate, allowing the cast to score with the jokes and the deeper moments.  The same is true of the other technical contributions—Bill Boes’s production design, Santiago Gonzalez’s cinematography, Robert Nassau’s editing and Ava Yuriko Hama’s costumes.  Gene Beck’s score is pleasant but often falls silent as pop songs are introduced instead. “Shortcomings” has little hope of emerging as a hugely popular crowd-pleaser like “Crazy Rich Asians,” and it’s not the gloomily gritty thing so many graphic novel adaptations are.  It falls into the comfortable middle, a likable, sometimes hilarious and sometimes acute study of a guy who needs to look in the mirror and shape up.