Crazy Rich Asians
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Crazy Rich Asians is a fairly standard romantic comedy about a woman meeting her boyfriend’s family. It is also a fish-out-of-water story about someone from the middle-class being thrust into the world of the filthy rich. Plus, it is about an Asian woman who was born in America going to Asia for the first time. On top of all of that, it is an American film with an all-Asian cast. On the surface, Crazy Rich Asians is an entertaining, if derivative, diversion. It is also much more. It is fascinating for everything it is trying to do, with some of those things executed better than others.
The film (based on the bestselling 2013 novel by Kevin Kwan) follows Rachel, an economics professor at NYU. She has been dating Nick for a year, yet knows very little about his family. One day, he asks her to travel with him to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding, so she can meet his entire family. Once they are on their way, Rachel discovers the secret Nick has hidden from her: his family is insanely wealthy. This introduces issues of class to a story that also has time to explore nationality, family and true love. It is a loaded movie underneath its fluffy exterior.
Besides feeling out of place among Nick’s old money relatives, Rachel is looked down upon because, despite the fact that she is Asian, they see her as an American who could never understand their values. While rich versus poor is a common theme in American films, Asian versus Asian-American is not. She does make friends inside the Young family, though many consider her to be nothing more than the woman keeping Nick from coming home.
That is interesting. As is the way the story handles the Young’s sense of family. Nick’s mother, Eleanor, has taken responsibility for caring for her husband, children and even some of the extended family. Her family has been her life’s work. This is apparent in a few instances, but the most impressive is the scene where Rachel and Nick make dumplings with his mother, grandmother and cousins. From the way they discuss how they learned to do this you can sense the importance of family values and traditions in their lives. Something they may not think Rachel can relate to. By making several of the characters who oppose the central relationship more than one-dimensional jerks, the story takes on added weight. There really is more at stake than whether or not these two nice people end up together.
Beyond the actual quality of the final product, Crazy Rich Asians is notable for its all-Asian cast, which is extremely rare for an American production. That would not mean much in the long run if the performers were unable to deliver. Thankfully, the filmmakers brought on some very good actors. The talented Constance Wu is funny, likable and sympathetic as Rachel. Henry Golding, in his big screen debut, just needs to be charming and in love as Nick, and he pulls both of those off pretty well. Michelle Yeoh as the quiet, but imposing, Eleanor, takes what could have been a clichéd role and makes it one of the movie’s best. Awkwafina, as Rachel’s Singapore-based college friend, gets the most humorous comedy bits and she is consistently funny. Additionally, there are spotlight moments for Gemma Chan, Ken Jeong, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Nico Santos and Lisa Lu. This is a strong cast, regardless of ethnicity.
Make no mistake: Crazy Rich Asians (114 minutes, plus an early credits scene) includes serious themes, however it is first and foremost a rom-com. It is a light and amusing fantasy. The production and costume design are quite eye-catching, though I eventually got tired of all the extravagance. Granted, extravagance is an unknown word in this world. The point is, this is an escapist romance lifted by the thoughtful conflicts propelling its drama. As a romantic comedy, it works just fine. What allows it to stand-out is that it treats its larger issues as more than window dressing. If you are going to it for the romance stuff, those other things will not hinder your enjoyment. They may even enhance it.
3½ out of 5
Constance Wu as Rachel Chu
Henry Golding as Nick Young
Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor Young
Gemma Chan as Astrid Young Teo
Awkwafina as Peik Lin Goh
Lisa Lu as Ah Ma
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Screenplay by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim