Okay, I’ll admit it. It’s been many moons since I’ve willingly seen a movie in theaters whose plot hinged on a romance. I didn’t hop aboard the 50 Shades train and I typically don’t think much of movies who put the smoochin’ before the punchin’. They’re just not my cup of tea and that’s perfectly okay. We all like what we like.
I can usually stomach such movies when they’re hidden behind clever comedy though, which is why I decided to give Crazy Rich Asians a try. Going off of what little I knew about the movie (which didn’t even include watching the trailer), I had imagined it as sort of this fish-out-of-water Meet the Parents style movie where I was guaranteed to get a bunch of laughs out of how awkward the leading lady was around her boyfriend’s family.
I didn’t really get that…or at least…not how I expected it.
You see, Crazy Rich Asians isn’t some slapstick comedy, though it does have a handful of outlandish characters and situations. First and foremost, this is a love story that celebrates Asian heritage with almost every single frame.
It was actually really cool to see a film with two Asian leads and a predominately Asian cast become so successful. Say what you will about Hollywood and racial diversity, but we never get to see a lot of Asian representation in movies which is an absolute shame. There’s a rich cultural well there to tap, and I hope the success of films like Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther inspires Hollywood to branch out a little more to tell stories from other cultures. The world is a huge place and it seems such a shame to leave all of those nooks and crannies unexplored.
Having said all of that, Crazy Rich Asians celebrates Asian and Chinese culture while also poking fun at it. There are jokes about Chinese superstition, characters who would be clownish stereotypes if not for their amount of heart, and huge plot points that are based around the quintessential familial bonds of Asian families. There is Asian cuisine, Asian music (including Asian covers of songs you might recognize) and even Asian games like Mahjong, all serving to make you fall in love with the culture if you weren’t already.
That’s not to say that there isn’t anything here if you aren’t a die-hard fan of Asian culture. The characters and their struggles are all relatable enough to where it never feels like you’re on the outsider looking in. Instead, you’re invited to share in the very human experience of feeling out of your element and out of your league with a fun cast of characters.
Constance Wu leads the way as Rachel Chu, our American College professor who has no idea that her boyfriend of one year is actually the heir to the family that essentially owns Singapore. She adds a lot of heart and earnestness to a role that could have been played a lot sillier, and you understand and empathize with her struggle every step of the way. Henry Golding plays her love interest Nick Young. While he’s not really shown to be as dynamic of an actor as Rachel, it’s not really his story either. It’s Rachel’s story about how she comes to terms with her boyfriends heritage and lifestyle and less about him. He is faced with a difficult choice which helps you care more for his character, but this is Rachel’s story through and through.
The supporting cast is as wild as it is stacked. There are off-the-wall characters played by the always awesome Ken Jeong and Awkwafina who play their roles with levels of cartoonishness that is ALMOST completely out of place, but the movie somehow convinced me that they fit right in. Michelle Yeoh is the “evil mother-in-law” trying to prevent her son from marrying an American with no significant blood ties and she plays the role with the ice-cold seriousness that it calls for. The real star of the film for me at least was Gemma Chan as Nick’s cousin. The movie actually features sort of a sub-plot between Gemma’s character Astrid and her husband and the emotional payoff from this plot-line is one of the most powerful parts of the movie. Gemma Chan almost got this hyper-masculine manly-man to cry in the theater, so…kudos to her.
And wow, did this movie have more emotional punch than I thought it would. I went in expecting the ridiculous irreverence of Meet the Parents and ended up…feeling things. Like…emotional things. It’s so hard not to lose yourself in Rachel’s struggle, because it ultimately feels like she’s fighting a losing battle from the get-go. It doesn’t ever really feel like she has a chance and the movie doesn’t feel bad about ripping her to shreds and putting her through the gauntlet. Any movie that can couple scenes of a woman who has locked herself away from the world to fight her sorrow with scenes of a cliché and upbeat trying-on-clothes montage is a talented movie indeed.
The movie is shot with a fun, frenetic style that makes every aspect of the Young’s extravagant lifestyle seem absolutely luxurious. There are some absolutely KILLER parties that get thrown on gorgeous estates, and the wedding that Rachel and Nick initially travel to Singapore to be a part of is one of the coolest weddings I’ve seen in movie history. The whole movie just feels like a spectacle, and in that respect Crazy Rich Asians should be commended.
All in all, this movie was a pleasant surprise for me. It’s got a few tropes of the romantic comedy genre, but don’t get in expecting it to be a comedy first like I did. There are jokes here and there, but the crux of the story lies in accepting who you are and fighting for the happiness of yourself and those you care about. The movie does an excellent job of humanizing the extravagantly rich, which makes it easier to remember that they are just people like ourselves. We may be envious of their lives, but at the end of the day they have to deal with many of the same problems and insecurities as ourselves. They may be Crazy Rich, but their problems are just as mundane as our own.
Just like…sexier, though.