Like most of America, I opted to see Crazy Rich Asians, despite being unfamiliar with the source material and having an aversion to romantic comedies. And even though the experience was marred by a surprising fire drill that gave us a twenty-minute intermission before the climax of the movie, I found the film to be somewhat entertaining, exactly as expected and completely overdue. Even if the movie is exceedingly mediocre, which I found it be, I’m glad it’s printing money and I’m glad that it’s the second supposedly surprise hit this year to feature a predominantly non-white cast (after Black Panther, now the biggest superhero movie in history and the third-biggest movie overall, ever).
Constance Wu is Rachel Chu, an economics professor who is dating Nick Young (Henry Golding), a fellow educator who is also a member of one of Singapore’s premier old-money families, led by his mother Eleanor (an icy Michelle Yeoh). For movie reasons alone, Nick hasn’t shared with his girlfriend of a year the exact nature of family’s background, something she is forced to deal with as they venture home for the wedding of his best friend. Shamed by Nick’s family and friends for not being good enough, rich enough, or old-world Asian enough, Rachel has to maintain her dignity in a world that views her as lesser than, and questions her relationship within this context. Side characters abound, most notably Nick’s favorite cousin, Astrid (Gemma Chan) and her crumbling marriage, Nico Santos as the fabulous gay stereotype Oliver, and the delightful and why-wasn’t-she-in-every-scene bundle of joy that is Peik Lin (Awkwafina, who really needs to be in everything all the time always).
The movie looks appropriately luxurious, with unbelievable wealth on display at every turn. There are many funny bits (see above re: Awkwafina) and the romance and conflict is believable, if mostly shallow and checking off every romantic-comedy trope, up to the last-minute declaration of love to the delight of strangers nearby. But the thing is, white America has had (to suffer through) mediocre romantic comedies since film began so there is something truly special about a movie that dares to serve that pablum to an underserved audience. It doesn’t matter that it’s not the most thoughtful, intelligent romance in filmic history, because those are unfair expectations to put on a film that is merely telling the same-old story with a setting and cast that aren’t well-worn.
The film gets credit for not dumbing down the story elements for a mainstream audience. There were scenes I didn’t get the full context of until reading about it afterwards, and that’s great because even if I didn’t fully realize the intricacies of the Mahjong game, for example, I understood the emotional truth at the center of it (and it was juxtaposed nicely with the poker setup in the opening moments of the film). Wu showed she can perfectly carry a movie, and Yeoh is reliably wonderful. I didn’t quite buy the ending, but as Hollywood as one can get, really, but I don’t think it would be making as many millions were it to have cutoff after that Mahjong scene, which is what would’ve made more sense to me.
My Grade – C (but an easy A for Awkwafina)