Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Say hello to your next favorite movie.
Yes, the optics of this film are important, but so is the fact that Crazy Rich Asians has a winning script, excellent cast of characters, and fully embraces its romantic comedy approach, offering no apologies along the way.
Restores a belief that the romantic comedy formula can work, as long as you pay respect to your audience and your story.
If you just “cannot” with romantic comedies, Crazy Rich Asians is going to probably drive you bonkers.
The film arrives with a huge burden of righting the wrongs of 25 years of under-representation from Asian ensembles in principal roles. With that said, it also has some detractors, who feel that its extravagance, storyline, and casting choices ultimately do more harm than good.
You’re dead inside? Seriously, Crazy Rich Asians is a blast. Get over yourself and find some humor in the world.
I’m not sure just where John M. Chu’s new film, Crazy Rich Asians, won me over, but I know a) it came early; and b) I was smiling all the way to the car and on the drive home from the theater.
On the one hand, Chu’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s 2013 book of the same name, is as formulaic a romantic comedy as one could ever expect. Refreshingly, it owns this fact and never apologizes for “the montage” or “the subplot” or “the idyllic romance potentially broken up by conflict” we all know exist as part of the agenda for a film like this.
On the other hand, the film’s ensemble is comprised of a nearly 100% all-Asian cast, and much has been written about how this is the first big studio film in over two decades (since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club) to feature Asian actors in all of the film’s predominant roles. That the film exists, in and of itself, is kind of a big deal. As Chu recently told The Hollywood Reporter, “We have more stories to tell, outside of the Crazy Rich Asians world.”
While the set-up and premise looks and feels very familiar, and we know exactly where this is going, there is more than just the optics of the cast that help this stand apart from other rom-com predecessors.
Though deeply in love, Rachel (Constance Wu) is a woman with a career, not beholden to the reciprocation or attention of boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding). An economics professor, she was raised by a single mother in New York City, and has found ambition and success come her way through hard work, some stubbornness, and a lot of perseverance.
After dating for over a year, Nick invites Rachel to accompany him home to Singapore, coinciding with her spring break and his best friend’s wedding. She agrees, bubbling with the nervousness one typically experiences when you meet your significant other’s family for the first time.
Quickly however, Rachel starts to recognize she may not know Nick as well as she thought. The flight to Singapore is first-class on steroids, with the couple essentially staying in a private room, with food service and champagne and wine whenever they want it. Nick concedes that his family is “comfortable,” but holds back that the Young family is essentially royalty, with Nick known as “the crown prince of the island.”
Rachel sneaks away to catch up with her old college friend, Peik Lin (Awkwafina), and her gregarious family, who inform her just who exactly she happens to be dating. Of course, this all becomes news to her hours before she is to attend a celebratory dinner for Colin (Chris Pang) and Araminta (Sonoya Mizuno), attended by their friends and Nick’s family, and other dignitaries, at a sprawling estate, the likes of which Rachel has never seen.
At this point, most romantic comedies would find Rachel argue with Nick about hiding his wealth, and then we would watch her struggle to fit in, and perhaps have Nick’s family believe she is not good enough for the family. We have seen this 1,000 times before, right?
Well, Crazy Rich Asians is that movie, but offers us more. The scenes of family assimilation work exceeding well because Rachel finds genuinely nice people at almost every turn. The screenplay by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, coupled with Chu’s smart and astute directing, cleverly infuses Asian culture throughout every frame. Never pandering or forced, and even though within a fantastical version of wealth and privilege, Crazy Rich Asians works so effectively in the quieter details.
Struggling to maintain your Asian heritage in an increasingly Westernized world. The importance of family vs. success and ambition. The sharing of stories. The making of dumplings. No matter what moments are shared or depicted on screen, somehow there is an authenticity that shines through which proves really rewarding for the viewer.
And yes: I recognize all the potential problems with that previous statement. How can you have authenticity in a movie that is a) a rom-com; b) set in and around a family of impossible wealth and opulence; and c) features a wedding that we are told cost $40 million? This isn’t real life. This isn’t authentic.
I guess I circle back to the cast – so many of the key characters are so great and so believable – who make this fantasy come to life. Wu is simply wonderful, and the chemistry she creates with Golding is magical. Michelle Yeoh as Nick’s guarded and intimidating mother is a character we have seen countless times before, in other movies, but not quite like this. Yeoh brings a vulnerability and compressed fear to the role, which speaks to the fear of letting your child fly from the nest and strike out on their own.
And the film’s ace-in-the-hole might just be Tan Kheng Hua, who has some moving and important moments as Rachel’s mother, Kerry.
On the downside, there’s almost too much movie here, as Chu stuffs a lot of plot into his film, especially in the last act. A subplot involving Nick’s cousin, Astrid (Gemma Chan), a socialite who hides her wealth from workaholic husband, Michael (Pierre Png), is never given the time it deserves to be meaningful, and seems superfluous at best. As great as Awkwafina’s Peik Lin character becomes, the scenes involving her family, led by Ken Jeong and Koh Chieng Mun, as her parents, fail to generate the laughs Chu and his team are looking for.
However, there is a moment, when Colin is tearing up as Araminta walks down the aisle, where Chu shifts his camera over to Nick, who has found the gaze of Rachel, and the two create one of the greatest rom-com moments ever.
I’m not crying. You’re crying!
Crazy Rich Asians has detractors, some very loud ones as a matter of fact, but I found this to be a really wonderful movie. And while I might be flirting with cliché in stating that representation matters. Really, it does.
Whether people love this movie because they are seeing themselves, in this setting and at this scope for maybe the first time ever, or we all just have a soft spot for well-written and engaging love stories, Crazy Rich Asians feels like a movie we have seen countless times before, but the formula feels reborn.
Here’s hoping for a sequel.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Koh Chieng Mun, Tan Kheng Hua, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remy Hii, Nico Santos, Jing Lusi, Pierre Png, Fiona Xie, Harry Shum Jr.
Director: Jon M. Chu
Written by: Peter Chiarelli, Adele Lim
Based on the book “Crazy Rich Asians” by Kevin Kwan
Release Date: August 17, 2018