Crazy Rich Asians (United States, 2018)August 14, 2018
On the surface, Crazy Rich Asians and Sex and the City couldn’t be more different but, if you dig deep enough into their respective DNA’s, there’s a common thread: the love of conspicuous consumption. Heard the term “First World problems?” It applies here. Despite half-hearted attempts to satirize the characters’ love of consumerism, Crazy Rich Asians buys into this philosophy so completely that it requires it to be part of the “happy ending.” Granted, one wouldn’t expect a modern-day fairy tale to be socially conscious but there’s something so overt about this materialism that it stains the overall experience.
Putting that aspect of the film aside, Crazy Rich Asians offers a romantic comedy that is remarkable primarily for its all-Asian cast. Based on the novel by Kevin Kwan, the film chronicles the romance between two Asians living in New York: Chinese American economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Singapore-born Nick Young (Henry Golding). Dispensing with such typical rom com tropes as the “meet cute” and the first kiss, Crazy Rich Asians drops midway into Rachel and Nick’s relationship. They’re young, in love, and starting to think about (although neither has voiced it) marriage. That’s when Nick takes a big step – offering to bring Rachel to his home country to meet his family. There’s something he hasn’t told her, though. The Young family is filthy rich and Nick is considered almost royalty. When Rachel first meets Nick’s crusty mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), the older woman isn’t impressed. And she has no shortage of help ensuring that this Cinderella doesn’t capture her son.
The concept of a prospective spouse causing friction between a person and his/her family is nothing new in cinema. Marty, about this very subject, won a Best Picture Oscar in 1956. As an examination of this thorny dynamic, Crazy Rich Asians isn’t especially perceptive. Like many romantic comedies, it prefers to skim the surface, staying shallow rather than diving deep. The movie has been made for those interested only in a glitzy fantasy given an exotic element resulting from the location and all-Asian cast.
As the couple whose romance we’re supposed to root for, Rachel and Nick are physically attractive and morally upright. They’re good, likable people. Constance Wu and Henry Golding have sufficient chemistry to make the romance believable. Iconic actress Michelle Yeoh uses her steely eyes and infinite composure to allow Eleanor to break free of the stereotype constraining her character. Awkwafina and Ken Jeong, both on hand for purely comedic purposes, argue that less might have been better. They’re amusing in small doses but each is given too much screen time.
Early in the proceedings, director Jon M. Chu’s deft hand promises more than the bulk of the film delivers. When Rachel meets Nick in public, two girls recognize him, take a picture, and post it to social media, where it immediately goes viral. As a result, all of Singapore knows about “Nick’s American girlfriend” (later called “a banana – yellow on the outside and white on the inside”) before the couple has completed their conversation. Shortly thereafter, there’s a fun scene in which another member of the Young royalty, Astrid (Gemma Chan), is shown hiding her purchases from her husband, who isn’t entirely supportive of her spendthrift habits. Scenes like these raise the possibility that Crazy Rich Asians could have achieved a level of wit and sophistication that it never realizes.
I realize that the majority of those who see the movie are simply interested in escapism and wish-fulfillment. For those viewers, although the fantasy may not be the most original or best executed, it works well enough to satisfy the craving. Like any product, Crazy Rich Asians knows its audience and caters exclusively to them. If you’re counted among their number – anyone who adores modern-day fairy tales in which love triumphs over all (including bitter old women) – things like the worship of consumerism and glossy superficiality won’t matter. Although the humor is variable, the romance is consistent and that allows the film to go down smoothly even if it takes an inordinately long time to do so.
Crazy Rich Asians (United States, 2018)
Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno
Screenplay: Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, based on the book by Kevin Kwan
Cinematography: Vanja Cernjul
Music: Brian Tyler
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
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