“Pursuing one’s passion…how American.”
Crazy Rich Asians breaks barriers. It’s compelling, it’s heartbreaking and is even hilarious in turns. But most importantly, it’s just a flat-out excellent film. This is the first Hollywood movie with an all Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club, and while the representation up on-screen seriously matters and will influence generations to come, none of it means a thing unless the movie itself is worth seeing. So I’m thrilled to report that Crazy Rich Asians transcends and moves past the importance placed on it from the media by being – at least on the surface level – the kind of simple, well-made, reliable Rom-Com that just doesn’t get released in theaters anymore. That there’s so much heart and personality hiding under its shiny hood is all the more reason to see this absolute gem. It’s one of the genre’s best this decade.
Lovebirds Nick Young (Henry Golding) and Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) are ready to take the next step. She’s a professor of economics at NYU and he does something that’s never really brought up. Together more than a year, Nick invites Rachel to Singapore during her spring break. She’s off work and he’s the best man in his friend’s wedding. It’s time she meets the family. Questions arise when they fly ultra first class, and Nick has to finally come clean: he comes from a very wealthy family. It’s not until Rachel reconnects with her old college roommate Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina, serving as a stick of comedic dynamite) that the cat’s entirely out of the bag. Not only is Nick seen as Singapore’s most eligible bachelor with the grin and the charm of Jude Law, he’s also the heir to the island’s most historied and opulent empire. Rachel, an immigrant raised by a single Mom (Kheng Hua Tan), doesn’t exactly match the aristocratic standards these relationships are typically governed by, especially through the steely eyes of Nick’s Mother Eleanor’s (Michelle Yeoh) harsh, intransigent and judgmental gaze. Rachel gets put through the ringer.
One of the strengths of director Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel is that, although it runs long at 2 hours, it never feels as such because every scene is integral to developing one of the members of this massive ensemble. The Matriarch Ah Ma (Lisa Lu) shows concern and offers backhanded compliments. Colin Khoo (Chris Prang), Nick’s friend whose wedding is graciously hosted by the Young dynasty, is a genuinely good guy. There are the weird Aunts, the flamboyant cousins, the ex-girlfriends and the trendsetting socialites. In this game of monopoly, every piece gets to play at the same time. Most striking though is Nick’s cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan). As a fashionista who’s married to a man who never quite feels enough, Astrid’s marriage shows us what could potentially go wrong for Nick and Rachel if they aren’t right for each other, and Gemma Chan’s collected performance sells it to us with all of the taste that her character has. The entire cast is spot-on.
We all know this tale as old as time. A man and a woman from different backgrounds fall in love. Outside forces try to separate their union. In the end, love wins out, as it should. Of all the film genres, the Romantic Comedy – greatly undervalued until its recent revival – can be the most formulaic, which is why gifts such as this film simply feel different and richer when they’re offered by those you most admire and love. Crazy Rich Asians gives us what we expect, but it does so with every ounce of its being. The effort earns your admiration, your trust, and we reciprocate by giving all of ourselves in return. Is it corny to fall in love with a movie about falling in love? See this film in theaters and don’t let this picture be the one that got away. You’ll regret it.
Not every great movie has to be a stark drama or an independent endeavor full of quirks. The more I watch, the more I’ve come to understand that the greats are the ones where you can recall the beginning, recreate the end with your eyes closed, and are able to get lost in everything that comes in between. Crazy Rich Asians achieves this feat. It’s a happy-sappy Rom-Com full of commentary on classicism and identity crisis and the horizontal trains of thought that run between generations. And through its uniquely Asian perspective, not only are audiences of all nationalities given the opportunity to see a movie about Asian culture and the process of Americanization, but best of all, people of all Asian descent will feel seen. When Rachel arrives to the wedding in her Cinderella blue dress, stunning beyond belief, women of all ages will see someone like them who’s beautiful inside and out. When Nick opens the car door for his girl, as dashing and dapper as any other leading man in Hollywood, men of all ages will see that kindness is more attractive than a six-pack.
Crazy Rich Asians immerses itself in commercialism and globalism and consumerism because it wants us to understand that transitory things are a currency less valuable than honest to goodness human connection. So it makes sense that the movie begins, quite intentionally, with a quote from Napoleon Bonaparte. “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.” I could feel the aftershock as I left the theater, contemplating going right back in for more. This is the kind of movie I root for and advocate on its behalf, if only because we all need to feel a little loss and a whole lot more love in our lives, and because we all deserve happily ever after.
“You’re the talk of the party.”
Rating: 5 out of 5