Crazy Rich Asians
Romantic comedies often get a bum rap, and rightly so. Too often, they’re fleshed out with one-dimensional characters and plots that would simply unravel if the two leads characters had kindergarten-level communication skills. But it doesn’t have to be like this. It’s possible to be sweet and funny, and have well-developed characters in a believable story. Crazy Rich Asians is the rare film that shows we can have it all.
Starting in New York City, we have a simple love story. Boy (Nick, Henry Golding) meets girl (Rachel, Constance Wu). After a year of dating, boy is called home to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. He asks girl to come along, and to meet his family for the first time. Simple enough, if it weren’t for the fact that boy’s family is essentially real estate royalty in Singapore and this is the country’s wedding of the century.
The two saving graces, to help Rachel weather the storm of this whirlwind visit home, are her wits and her friend. Rachel is not just any pretty face. She’s an NYU economics professor, specializing in game theory. She was raised by her single mother in Queens and is the perfect example of the American dream. Rachel also has her friend, Peik Lin (the year’s second scene-stealing turn from Awkwafina, following Ocean’s Eight). She was Rachel’s close friend in college and now lives at home in Singapore.
As expected, there are a lot of bumps in the road for Rachel and Nick. Not only is Rachel dealing with jealousy and resentment from Nick’s friends and family, she encounters cultural differences she didn’t anticipate. Although she’s Chinese by blood and speaks the language, she’s constantly reminded that Chinese-American is not the same thing, and that her rags-to-riches journey cheapens Nick’s family tradition of super wealth.
This absurd wealth makes Crazy Rich Asians an exercise in escapist cinema. The food, the clothes, the cars, the helicopters, and the overall extravagance are not a part of my daily life. While watching Crazy Rich Asians, however, I get to indulge in the fantasy of a life free of financial worry. Here, all the people are beautiful, all the muscles are defined, and the drinks are bottomless.
In terms of diversity of representation across a fairly white box office, having the essentially all-Asian cast in Crazy Rich Asians is significant. In addition to that milestone, the film itself is better for it. Chinese culture is not a monolith, and being more inclusive of a variety of experiences and histories gives us an interesting and fresh story. The presence of traditions (old and new) feel like they enhance Rachel and Nick’s world, and are not a history lesson being thrust into the audience for education. This is a uniquely Asian experience, but the desire for love and acceptance is universal.
Best of all, Crazy Rich Asians is the kind of film that shows instead of tells. We see Rachel and Nick in love, rather than having someone tell us. We see that Rachel is smart and can hold her own against Nick’s family matriarchs, rather than having it blatantly explained. And we see how hilarious Peik Lin and her family are, and what a good friend she is. The film is light on exposition and heavy on actual character development and story building.
Crazy Rich Asians is a wonderful escapist romantic comedy that somehow manages successfully to be both romantic and comedic. Even typical curmudgeons like me can enjoy being whisked away from everyday life into this fantasy land of wealth and affection.