4 out of 5 stars.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is the first film produced by a Hollywood studio to boast an all-Asian principal cast in 25 years. They are a minority who are often either grossly under-represented, or poorly represented, in major American films. And while “Crazy Rich Asians,” which is based on the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, is far from perfect, it marks an important milestone, while also being a really fun romantic comedy and commentary on wealth.
Directed by Jon Chu, the film stars Constance Wu as Rachel Chu, an economics professor at NYU who has been dating her boyfriend Nick Young for a year when he invites her to go to Singapore with him to attend his best friend’s wedding and meet his family. Rachel, who is Asian American, initially doesn’t think it will be an issue, until she finds out that Nick’s family is actually one of the richest in Singapore—not just rich, but crazy rich. Rachel is suddenly whisked into a world of over-the-top parties, lavish clothing, and extravagant homes, where no expense is too large. Moreover, Rachel clashes with Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who adheres to old family values and doesn’t believe Rachel is good enough for her son.
“Crazy Rich Asians” manages to cram quite a bit into its two hour runtime, including many classic tropes of the rom-com genre. But it doesn’t need to explore Nick and Rachel’s relationship in depth—at the start of the movie they have already been together a long time and are obviously very much in love. Rather, the film spends time exploring the family relationship and how wealth affects that. As we see in several of the supporting characters in the film, having money doesn’t make life easier—if anything, it makes life and maintaining relationships even harder. Nick just wants to be with Rachel, but their relationship is complicated by his family’s wealth. Meanwhile, Nick’s cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) tries to hide her excessive spending from her husband, while he never feels like he’s enough because he didn’t come from money like her. And the bachelor and bachelorette parties that take place before the wedding are like something out of a horror movie: garish pool parties, girls bordering on violence on a shopping spree, and a scene that looks like it belongs in “The Godfather,” not a light rom-com.
Director Chu invigorates the story with a swirl of color and culture. From the beautiful costumes and sets to the fun soundtrack and portrayal of food (lots and lots of food), this movie looks and sounds so much more amazing than the average rom-com. The script is mostly sharp, with some great dialogue. Many of the characters are over-the-top, but some of them are grounded by their own problems. And the film isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but it does have many amusing moments, a lot of them brought to us by Rachel’s quirky college roommate Peik Lin, played by Awkwafina.
While the film should be celebrated for its diversity, it isn’t without its controversies. The story revolves solely around the wealthy, without giving a glimpse at how the lower class lived and perpetuating the idea that many families in Singapore live the lifestyle it portrays. Those beautiful visuals I mentioned earlier aren’t representative of most of the country, for instance. And while the movie is a step forward in terms of more diverse casting in Hollywood, it has drawn some criticism for casting many non-Chinese actors and assuming that there are no differences between people of Asian descent.
The cast the film did end up with, however, is spectacular. Wu’s Rachel evolves throughout the film to be more determined and confident without changing her true self and getting revenge against the catty rich girls who shut her out. Yeoh is perfectly cast as the Young family matriarch, as she can give off an air of power and fierceness without saying a word. Golding is solid leading man material (somehow this is his feature film debut) while Chan brings a quiet dignity to her performance that almost steals the movie. There are so many other actors who get great moments in the movie too, such as Nico Santos. Ken Jeong, and Jimmy O. Yang. And then there’s Lisa Lu. Remember that how I mentioned that “Crazy Rich Asians” is the first Hollywood movie in 25 years with an Asian principal cast? That film from 25 years ago was “The Joy Luck Club,” which was based on a novel by Amy Tan and ended up being a hit. Lu played the mother, An-Mei, in that film, and here she plays Nick’s grandmother. It’s a beautiful full-circle moment for a wonderful actress, but also hopefully won’t be another couple decades before we see a movie like this again.
Runtime: 120 minutes. Rated PG-13.