Crazy Rich Asians
This meet-the-parents rom-com is brimming over with charm although its portrait of wealth could be a tad more complex
In part, the strength of Jon Chu’s immensely entertaining Crazy Rich Asians is its epic approach to the romantic comedy – widely believed to be on the decline – all the while indulging in all the genre’s best conventions.
It’s the familiar meet-the-parents/fish-out-of-water narrative: Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) accompanies her boyfriend Nick Young (a wonderfully charismatic Henry Golding) to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. Rachel – the only child of a working-class immigrant mother (Kheng Hua Tan) – discovers Nick hails from one of the country’s wealthiest families. Nick’s grandmother, played by Lisa Lu – who bridges the 25 years since 1993's The Joy Luck Club, the last film by a major Hollywood studio to feature a predominantly Asian cast in a contemporary setting – seems welcoming enough. His mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), however, can scarcely hide her deep disapproval of Rachel. Their dynamic represents the chasm between the classes, of course, layered with generational and cultural divisions, and their climactic showdown over a poetic game of Mahjong is one of the sharpest in recent cinematic history (romantic comedy or otherwise).
But the film doesn’t always stick the landing with its racial politics. For one thing, Singapore is far more ethnically diverse than represented here. Understandably perhaps: the film unfolds primarily among rich East Asians. But a particularly uncomfortable scene where Rachel and her friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina) are frightened by two dark-skinned Indian guards feels incohesive with the film’s larger ambitions. And if merely portraying the nation’s problematic racial dynamics could be forgiven, it still does not quite explain how Peik Lin, apparently raised in Singapore, returns from university in New York with so jarring and regionally confused a cadence considering her environs.
Nevertheless, Crazy Rich Asians brims over with charm: Wu wields a magnetic screen presence, as does Gemma Chan who plays Nick’s cousin Astrid. It’s not an evenly complex portrait of wealth – dazzling, resplendent, and only sickeningly indulgent for a moment – but it’s a film winningly possessed with heart: for it’s as much a romance as it is an ode to moms.
Released by Warner Bros