So, I suppose I don’t need to be the five-hundreth white guy laying out how culturally important this movie is for American audiences, specifically Asian-American audiences. I mean, the proof is in the pudding. Crazy Rich Asians is the first American-produced wide-releae film to feature a primarily Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club, released a week and a half before I was born and largely unheard of and unseen by a majority of modern audiences, present company included. I guess you could say it was a success, having tripled its modest $10 million budget and being well-reviewed by critics. But certainly not to the degree that Crazy Rich Asians is already experiencing in its early domestic run. And though only time will tell, the only thing I can really compare it to in the sense that it’s a hugely financially successful American rom-com featuring a mostly non-American cast of characters is My Big Fat Greek Wedding back in 2002, and that’s not necessarily a direct parallel considering it was set in America and not all of the actors bore the eponymous nationality. But it did make a sh*t load of money, so much so they felt the need to give a sequel with My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 in 2016, a sequel having already been announced for the film in question here. And while there are many distinctions to be made, particularly in approach to its comedy portion, both are actually pretty great movies, with me only giving the slight edge to the preceding one. But that’s not to say there’s not a lot to enjoy about Crazy Rich Asians, a smart, humorous tale of class and cultural relations that doesn’t so much as dispel the tropes of its genre as perfects them.
In Crazy Rich Asians, American-raised economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) travels to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to attend his best friend Colin’s (Chris Pang) wedding and meet his family. Unbeknownst to Rachel, however, until now, is that the Youngs are secretly Asian royalty – essentially – being so rich that it borders on the crazy side. Suddenly Rachel is not only trying to put on a pleasant face to please the rents, but also to prove that she’s worthy of eventually marrying into the high-standards family, and that her addition yields more positive outcomes than negative ones. Chief among her skeptics is Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who believes Rachel too lowly and American to bring anything but disrepute to the Young clan. Rachel must do whatever it takes to convince Eleanor and company that she’s more than just her upbringing, otherwise Nick will have to choose between the love of his life and his family.
Based on the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians otherwise comes courtesy of director Jon M. Chu, who has spent most of his time in Hollywood helming sequels for the Step Up, G.I. Joe, and Now You See Me franchises, none of which – though financially successful – being the breakout hits one would hope for to solidify consistent, future work in the industry. Well, it would seem Chu has found his great white buffalo here, as not only did he have a great script to work with from writers Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, but was also able to inject just enough directorial prowess one can imprint on a comedy to make for a similarly visceral experience as well as a comedic one. There were times where I wasn’t sure if I was watching a narrative feature or an extended tourism ad for Singapore, but never did I really care due to the finished product being so polished and confident. Seriously, I’d recommend seeing this as the latter half of your dinner-and-a-movie date, because all the colorful foreign food featured will make you hungry.
But let’s get into the bread and butter on which romantic comedies either live or die: the cast. Granted, there’s a lot of faces American audiences won’t recognize, obviously due to the supreme lack of whiteys roaming around onscreen, save for the likes of Ken Jeong, whom most will recognize from his resurgence concurrent with the Hangover trilogy. But the almost unknown quality to the actors actually plays in the film’s favor, as they’re feely able to embody their characters without the kind of baggage that will plague the likes of Matthew McConaughey or Kate Hudson movies, being that we’ve never seen them play this kind of game previously. And it doesn’t hurt that they’re all so well cast and memorable, even if there seems to be a preponderance of characters and an extraneous subplot. Perhaps the most memorable is rising star Awkwafina, who already had something of a breakout performance earlier this summer in Ocean’s 8. And yeah, the best-friend archetype in these things is oftentimes the breakout character anyway, but Awkwafina is nevertheless able to steal every scene she’s in with her own signature brand of energy and cadence that American audiences will perhaps find the most accessible of the bunch. Still, at the end of the day, the emotional core of the romantic-comedy hinges on the lead couple, and Wu and Golding do not disappoint. While both brings something unique to the table, their chemistry serves as the clincher in bringing it all home when the time comes.
However, with all the talent on-screen being orchestrated to near-perfection, not one of the bunch quite outshines Yeoh as the matriarch of the Young family and primary source of opposition toward Rachel and Nick’s relationship. Now, Crazy Rich Asians employs a lot of oft-seen rom-com tropes probably in the hopes of making it as narratively accessible as possible, and this is an archetype that could have come across as generic and one-note and spiteful for the sake of it, but hats off to Yeoh for being able to inject a serious dose of humanity to the part. The character’s motivations may seem trite and old-fashioned, easy to scoff at in the assurance that love will ultimately win the day, but it’s a real testament to Yeoh and the writing for allowing the viewer to disagree with her sentiments, but understand and empathize where she’s coming from. I wouldn’t go far as to say that she’s the antagonist of the film, but oftentimes a good villain needs only be able to convey their motivations and backstory fluidly in order to make them a compelling character. And that’s what Crazy Rich Asians does for the most part, in taking these supposedly worn standards and suffusing them with a layer of depth and just a few idiosyncrasies to prove why they’re the standard to begin with.
And the romantic comedy largely died out in the last decade due to a slew of slapdash productions that did nothing more than follow that formula perfunctorily and without the kind of passion displayed here. Granted, it gave us a handful of satirical pictures like Friends with Benefits laughing at itself along with the audience, but it may just be that we’ve come full-circle again, as hopefully Crazy Rich Asians has invigorated the genre with new life and given moviegoers a new reason to love people being in love.
Final Score: 8/10