Crazy Rich Asians. 2018
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remi Hii, Nico Santos, Ken Jeong, and Michelle Yeoh
This contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family.
This might sound bizarre to say about a romantic comedy, but I deeply wished critics were screened Crazy Rich Asians in IMAX. Formulaic concept aside, this is a spin on the tired genre that, under the lush direction from Jon M. Chu (adapting Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel from a script penned by multiple names) knows to focus on the aspects that separate this experience from the rest of the dirty mold. Soirées are as common as guns breaking out in an action movie here, captured with rich cultural photography and vibrant, elegant costume design sure to be in the running for awards come Oscar season. Further putting this into perspective, there is a wedding sequence around halfway through the movie (movingly set to a cover of “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”) featuring such beautiful customs I stopped giving a damn that I was basically watching yet another film about rich people dealing with rich people problems. Visually, Crazy Rich Asians is wonderfully bursting with tradition and culture.
But is it enough to be able to overlook that what we are watching is essentially a soap opera? There is an affair, family members plot and betray one another, parents sternly uphold tradition in the face of individual and eternal happiness, and societal classes determine who is allowed to date who, and in some cases, the healthiness of an entire relationship. To quickly answer that question, I give a resounding yes. Even when it turns out one of the numerous relationships depicted among this gigantic, obscenely wealthy family of likable characters to varying degrees, is cheating on their significant other, it doesn’t blow up into catty chaos. Instead, the script examines what led to this unacceptable decision and how the problems, while obviously still blamed on the adulterer, are more complex than they appear on the surface and rooted in the toxicity of the family’s long-standing beliefs.
Aside from some rather acute observations regarding dating that one certainly would not expect coming into a mainstream romantic comedy being released in the dumping ground month that is August, Crazy Rich Asians is also well above competently acted even in the face of predictable tropes. Thankfully, the film knows when it’s finally beginning to wear out its welcome, quickly wrapping itself up when the ending comes into clear view, but even during those moments, it’s hard not to be relatively impressed by such an unknown pool of acting talent. Sure, Ken Jeong is arguably the most hip name in the cast and gets a few good jokes in playing to his brand of humor, Michelle Yeoh gets to portray an icy cold mother serving as a barrier between true love, and Awkwafina’s chipper and energetic comedic relief best friend performance shows that her bland personality in Ocean’s 8 was just a result of poor direction, but there aren’t any big names drawing audiences to this one. It’s relying simply on the popularity of the novel and word-of-mouth (this should take the film a little farther at the box office). With that said, hopefully, stars Constance Wu and Henry Golding are given more work; Hollywood could always use the extra diversification.
Moving on from wishful thoughts, the story of Crazy Rich Asians sees Rachel (Constance Wu) finally meeting the parents of Henry Golding’s Nick Young. As previously mentioned, the Young family is filthy rich, consistently throwing parties that would have viewers confused as to if they walked in on an Asian version of The Great Gatsby (heightened by a catchy soundtrack utilizing both international covers and recognized versions), all of which catches Rachel off guard. She never knew this about Nick’s family, and they aren’t exactly welcoming, thrusting her into a challenging fight for respect. Coming from nothing, mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) isn’t going to let a commoner, American immigrant coming from a single mother and no money invade their lifestyle no matter how happy she makes Nick. Naturally, their disdain is heightened by the fact that Rachel is one of the main reasons Nick has not traveled to Singapore to visit in a very long time.
What ensues is not necessarily a struggle to accept a luxurious lifestyle (who wouldn’t be happy if they learned their partner actually came from massive riches), but how destructive that life can be to those around everyone else. At first, Rachel reasonably wonders why Nick would hide such a positive and important detail; it’s not before long that the family lives up to the crazy part allowing us to empathize with his secrecy. There’s also something admirable about the fact that he doesn’t want to be loved for his wealth, opting to live like an average Joe (it’s joked about how he still borrows Rachel’s Netflix password instead of signing up for his own account).
Again, no one is really coming exclusively for the plot. Admittedly, it is a been-there-done-that type of deal weighed down by predictability. However, filtered through a crazy rich Asian perspective and drowning in culture, we are swept into this exotic lifestyle. For a while, it can feel that the movie is masking a telegraphed narrative by assaulting the viewer with gorgeous visuals, but it soon blends into the story. This is a movie that literally ends with fireworks, and thankfully the performances from Constance Wu and Henry Golding contain a chemistry equally as explosive.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com