Directed by: Jon M. Chu
Premise: Based on the novel by Kevin Kwan. An Asian American woman (Constance Wu) and her boyfriend travel to Singapore to attend a wedding. She discovers that his family is extraordinarily wealthy and the boyfriend’s mother has her own ideas about her son’s future.
What Works: The romantic comedy genre has dwindled in recent years. Once a fixture of Hollywood’s release slate, the genre has largely disappeared perhaps because a lot of recent offerings were terrible. Crazy Rich Asians breathes new life into the romantic comedy and it is a satisfying return of the genre. As a romantic comedy, Crazy Rich Asians delivers on both halves of its category. The movie succeeds as a romance. The film centers upon Rachel and Nick, professionals living in New York who are love. Actors Constance Wu and Henry Golding are a good fit. Romances succeed if the viewer wants to see the lovers live happily ever after and Wu and Golding are a photogenic and likable couple. Although it reiterates a Cinderella scenario, Rachel is more than a proletariat bachelorette. She is an economics professor who has her own ambitions beyond getting married. But her feelings for Nick are genuine and that makes her vulnerable and an agreeable protagonist. Love stories also require something keeping the lovers apart and in Crazy Rich Asians that is the socio-economic divide between Nick and Rachel but also the enforcement of family traditions by the mother, played by Michelle Yeoh. She is a formidable presence and Yeoh is withering in a subtle way. And it is often the quiet personal moments of Crazy Rich Asians that are most impressive. The intimate character scenes between the couple and between family members are very effective and carry a dramatic punch. Crazy Rich Asians also succeeds a comedy. This movie is consistently funny. It gets a lot of humor from the fish-out-of-water scenario while also poking fun at the outrageous lifestyles and shallowness of the super-rich. Especially funny is Awkwafina as a friend of Rachel who helps her navigate high society. Crazy Rich Asians was directed by Jon M. Chu who has a playful and energetic filmmaking style. The picture has a breezy feel and includes some colorful visuals.
What Doesn’t: The storyline of Crazy Rich Asians is not at all original. The plot staples together tropes from a variety of similar movies including Cinderella, Pretty Woman, My Fair Lady, and Meet the Parents, among others. The film includes a number of clichés like the obligatory dress montage and the race to the airport. It does these scenarios well and there’s no denying that Crazy Rich Asians gives the romantic comedy audience what they want. But it is obvious where the story is going and there are few surprises. The love-conquers-all conclusion rings a little hollow because the issues keeping the lovers apart aren’t actually confronted. Rachel and Nick want to be together but they cannot because of cultural mores and family traditions but also because Rachel has a professional life in New York and Nick’s family business will keep him in Singapore. Their professional conflicts are never really worked out. There’s also no denying that Crazy Rich Asians has a preoccupation with gross materialism. Whether this is a fault of the movie or not is going to depend upon the viewer’s own economic ethic. Fans of Sex and the City and its obsession with designer duds will probably love Crazy Rich Asians. Viewers who look at this vast (and mostly inherited) wealth and see grotesque economic inequality might feel differently about the movie and its implicit messages.
Bottom Line: Crazy Rich Asians is an enjoyable romantic comedy. It isn’t especially original but the film includes everything that the romantic comedy audience is looking for and serves it up with style and likable characters.
Episode: #524 (January 11, 2015)