Director: Jon M. Chu | Screenwriter: Adele Lim, Peter Chiarelli | Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Lisa Lu, Nico Santos, Ken Jeong, Michelle Yeoh | Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures | Running Time: 121 min. | MPAA Rating: PG-13
If modern romantic comedies seem cheaply assembled with contorted premises for laughs and kisses, Crazy Rich Asians is a classic return to the most decadent of rom-com cinema. No expense has been spared to present one of the most lavish, sweet, and memorable films, past a breezy and beautiful date night experience. You don’t need to be Asian, rich, or even crazy to appreciate this modern fairytale.
The lovely couple is Rachel Chu and Nick Young, played by the gorgeous pair of Constance Wu and Henry Golding. Rachel is excited to finally meet Nick’s family in Singapore, even if they’re not exactly excited to see her. Unaware of Nick’s rich family, the Young clan are made immediately aware of Nick’s new girl before they even set foot in the country. They’re exceptionally judgemental of an American Chinese woman marrying the heir to the Young fortune, even though Young grew up in London with a distinct English accent. The most concerned among the always smiling and the tradition-loving collective is Nick’s mother, played by Michelle Yeoh, with a reservation to only voice her true distaste behind closed doors.
While Rachel struggles with the awkwardness of the generational and cultural divide, that doesn’t prevent her from enjoying the wonderous vacation of a gorgeous Singapore as she follows Nick home for a family wedding. How could you not be amazed by an airport that has an aquarium and a movie theater? She’s in for the most beautiful of parties as Nick’s family spares no expense in their decadent mansion parties, island bachelorette parties, and a wedding with such a rich theme of grassland with a water-flooded aisle for the bride to walk it’ll go down as one of the best movie weddings ever filmed.
Thankfully, Rachel isn’t entirely on her own for this trip as her old college roommate Goh Peik Lin is living there as able, eager and ecstatic to show her pal a good time in her native land. Lin is played by Awkwafina she is bursting at the seams with her beaming energy and a Southern accent that she steals all the comedy, tucking it away in her designer handbag and running off in her loud fashion. Consider that she shares scenes with that always-funny Ken Jeong, playing Lin’s father, and she still manages to outdo him with the most hilarious bits. Lin’s father at one point calls his daughter an Asian Ellen, but, I don’t know, there’s something about her presence and style that reeks of a young Joan Rivers; quick enough to deliver a zinger, stylish enough to be a fashion designer, and sweet enough to be the best friend you’d always want nearby.
With Rachel trying to go against the Young family for the hand of Nick, the film could tailspin into a tired formula of revenge tactics. It also could have turned into an exhausted structure of will-they-won’t-they with Nick and Rachel ending up together. We know they will because they have such great chemistry that the story becomes more about Rachel’s desire to pursue Nick when the family would rather not have their lineage soiled. And Rachel is far too nice and confident of a woman to result to cheap gimmicks of laying waste to her estate or something more juvenile. The clashing forces of the fears to preserve the culture and the bitter divide between generations of Asians that seek different passions and priorities out of life is not cheapened with slapstick or pies.
Providing backup for the emotional weight is a subplot about an already married couple of the Young family that is teetering on divorce. Their path takes a dark turn and, while seemingly distant from the tale of Rachel and Nick, this does give their romance more drive for what can happen when wealth and family loom over relationships, threatening to crush couples with insecurities. I initially thought this aspect seemed a little forced given that it’s a bookended segment without a whole lot of buildup, but it really does flesh out a story with a better balance of pains in a relationship, clashing well with the bounciness of Nick and Rachel’s rock-solid coupling.
There’s so much to adore in Crazy Rich Asians, from its colorful locations to the breezy and biting humor, that it’s destined to be a classic. It may very well become that one romantic comedy that is so damn good the more jaded of those towards the genre won’t admit to its placement, in the same way audiences don’t want to acknowledge an exceptional horror movie as such. True, it’s not the usual blend of a romantic comedy, written with far more hefty emotional moments of Asian culture clash and some of the most dazzling of sets, but be honest with yourself; this is very much a romantic comedy. And it’s one of the best of the decade.