Crazy Rich Asians (Movie Review)
Crazy Rich Asians is a contemporary fairy tale that has everything you might want from a love story. A fish out of water, a wicked mother-in-law (to be), and an exotic location. It’s a heartwarming film not just because it’s a wonderful story, but because it proves that Hollywood still knows how to make a good old-fashioned romance.
It goes without saying that Crazy Rich Asians features a cast that is, completely made up of Asians (save for one or two scenes). In fact, watching the film you can play the spot the cameo game with the likes of Ken Jeong, Awkwafina (who you might recognize from Ocean’s 8), and Jimmy O. Yang. In fact, it feels like almost every Asian actor in Hollywood popped up in one form or another, which is tremendous considering all the representation issues facing Asian actors (you won’t see any “David Carradines” here). More importantly all the actors are not only incredible in their roles, but for the most part, they’re drop-dead gorgeous (especially Henry Golding). I was especially impressed with Michelle Yeoh who hangs up high kicking ways for a more dramatic role. However, it’s Nico Santos who steals every scene he’s in as the fashion focused, gossiping cousin Oliver. The only problem with having such an incredible talent cast is that the lead, Constance Wu, starts to fade into the background in a lot of her scenes.
Crazy Rich Asians gains inspiration for its story from the fact that most of the billionaires in the world live in Asia right now. With that in mind, it tells the story of a young NYU professor of economics (Constance Wu) who is excited to fly to Singapore to meet her longtime boyfriend’s, Nick Young (Henry Golding), family. Unbeknownst to her, his family is actually obscenely rich. I guess she never took the time to cyber stalk him when they first started dating, which is a huge no-no in social media savvy times we live in today. Still, she ends up getting there and soon discovered that not only are they rich, but they’re rich even for rich people. Unfortunately, she soon learns the hard way that rich people are some of the worst people in the world. Her visit steadily starts rolling downhill as she discovers that not only are Asians incredibly intolerant (they hold it against her that she is American), but rich Asians are even worse. Her low-class standing turns the entire family against her from the start as they cast her in the role of gold digging bitch. Now she has to struggle to decide if her love for Nick is worth putting up with his family.
The best way to describe Crazy Rich Asians is probably gratuitous elegance. The locations and the setting of the film are gorgeous. However, it’s hard not to take notice of the way many of the characters flaunt their wealth. That isn’t to say that rich people don’t deserve to enjoy what they have, but at a certain point, it becomes gaudy and tasteless (there’s only so much gold trim you can take). At least the vast majority of the characters in this film aren’t “making it rain,” but they are buying million dollar pairs of earrings. Maybe it’s because I’m nowhere near rich, but I’ve always felt as though actions speak louder than words, which is why so many of the characters that are villainous in this film tend to flaunt their status. It’s the ones who aren’t concerned with money and social standing that tend to be the heroes for Wu’s characters, including cousin Oliver, her old schoolmate, and Nick’s cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan). At a certain point it becomes clear that this is also a movie about the fact that while the rest of the world might be progressing slowly but surely, the super wealthy are stuck in their ways and care more than ever how they’re viewed.
The chemistry between the actors in this film is palpable, but then again family is a huge theme of Crazy Rich Asians so it has to be in order to make the movie work. In fact, there’s an east meets west element to the movie that reveals a lot about the kinds of tradition and values that are still held by so many in Asia today. Wu’s character is berated for “following her dreams” and not putting family first. For them, you suck it up and do what needs to be done, which is probably why nepotism is such a huge factor in the film. It’s about your family and who your family knows that determines your place in life. In the regards, Wu is like a fish out of water as she struggles to prove her value. What sets her apart is that she had to earn everything she had. While the children in the Young family certainly didn’t have it easy being groomed for roles in life predetermined for them, they certainly didn’t have to worry about making rent at any point in their life.
My biggest issues with Crazy Rich Asians lies with the lead. While Constance Wu starts the film strongly, she fades in the middle of it. She’s matched in talent by everyone else in the film, many of the women surrounding her are practically supermodels, and she has to compete with the likes of Ken Jeong, Awkwafina, and Nico Santos when it comes to jokes. In other words, it’s hard for her to make much of an impression with her character. Still, director Jon M. Chu makes sure that the film revolves around her, but that doesn’t mean that the characters in orbit are much more interesting than her in a lot of ways.
Crazy Rich Asians is a classic romantic comedy. It follows the formula to a T and there’s nothing wrong with that. This is far from an Oscar-worthy film, but it’s a lot of fun. I enjoyed myself a great deal during it and found myself leaving theaters with a smile. While the majority of the movie is grandiose, it’s the attention to detail that matters the most. Everything from costuming to Asian covers to easily recognizable songs comes together beautifully to create a movie that reminds me why a day at the theater can be so much fun.