Crazy Rich Asians is one of those movies that, sadly, seems to only come around once every decade or so. It’s a romantic-comedy that still packs a powerful dramatic punch when it needs to, features fun and memorable characters portrayed by a talented cast, and is full of beautiful sets, costumes, and locations. It’s a wonderful time at the movies, in a time when a well-made and impactful rom-com is hard to come by. What’s the secret? Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel when it comes to the genre, in fact, it hits almost everything on the romantic-comedy to-do list (disapproving parents, the wacky best friend, the over-the-top in-laws, the perfect man with which to have a dramatic break-up).
Maybe it’s just the fact that the film exists at all. Crazy Rich Asians is the first film by a major Hollywood studio to feature an all Asian-American cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. That is a whopping 25 years without this kind of Asian representation at the movies. Director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2 & 3, Now You See Me 2) knew that this film adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel was important, going so far as to turn down Netflix (who were offering artistic freedom, a green-lighted trilogy and huge, seven-figure-minimum paydays for each stakeholder, upfront) so just he could make sure the film had a wide theatrical release. Chu has an eye for the big and the bold, even on the modest of budgets, and the beautiful sights and scenery of Singapore, where the film takes place, look bigger and better than anything the United States has had to offer in a long time.
Crazy Rich Asians is the story of Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), the daughter of a single-mother Chinese immigrant. She lives in New York and is a professor of economics at NYU, and when she’s not teaching she’s spending time with her boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding). Nick invites Rachel to Singapore with him for his best friend’s wedding, where he’ll also be able to introduce her to his large family for the first time. What Rachel doesn’t know, however, is that Nick is the only son of the Young family, one of the wealthiest and most prestigious families in all of Singapore. Rachel has to contend with the disapproval of Nick’s family and friends, who turn their noses up at her for not being part of an important dynasty, and, at worst, consider her nothing more than a shallow gold-digger, despite Rachel not even knowing about Nick’s vast wealth beforehand. She also has to deal with being thrown into the lifestyle of the rich and famous (the Young’s are basically royalty), something that she’s wholly unfamiliar with since she comes from a poor upbringing.
The cast and location of Crazy Rich Asians truly does seem to be the film’s secret weapon. It’s an enormous breath of fresh air from Hollywood, and while some parts of the story are borderline cliché, they’re still being viewed through an Asian lens and perspective. For example, the big conflict of Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), disapproving of Rachel isn’t necessarily because Rachel isn’t rich, but because she is an American who pursues her own happiness and passions, rather than serving the interests of the family. It’s a distinctly Asian conflict, and not something often seen in the movies. The lavish homes and parties of the Young’s and company serve as the more extravagant and outlandish aspects of the movie; it’s where Chu really spreads his wings and has the most fun, and in turn, the audience does as well.
Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat) has enormous star power, and her portrayal of Rachel is one of the strongest points of the film. Rachel is instantly likeable, fun, open, and, most of all, extremely sure of herself. Her confidence is what propels her past most other protagonists of the genre, never shirking away from the vicious attacks on her and her character. Rachel keeps her integrity throughout, and has extreme dedication to sticking to her guns, ideals, and what makes her happy. Henry Golding’s Nick is a bit bland, but fits the role of a handsome Prince Charming perfectly. There’s not much else the script calls for. Scene-stealing duties fall immediately to Rachel’s best friend, Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina), who pops in every so often to land the movie’s best jokes. She’s hilarious and flamboyant without it every becoming too much or annoying, and the chemistry between her and Rachel makes for one the best and most believable friendships in recent movie memory.
Most everything in Crazy Rich Asians just seems to work exactly the way that it’s supposed to. It’s fun, funny, and even extremely touching, especially by the time you reach the end. Everything that’s set up early on pays off in a big way, and the film doesn’t shy away too much from the fact that is one of the first and only all-Asian films in a long time. It’s well aware and fully embraces it, and it’s all the better for it. It’s hard for me to decide on what my favorite line is (“Eat your food, there are children starving in America” or “You look like a slutty Ebola virus”), but it’s very easy for me to decide that this is one of the best movies of the year. If you’d like to see more wonderful portrayals of other cultures and celebrate diversity in the movies this weekend, make sure you give this a watch this weekend. You won’t regret it.
4 / 5 Stars
Crazy Rich Asians is now playing in theaters everywhere.