Most of the media attention surrounding the release of Crazy Rich Asians addresses the rarity for a major Hollywood studio release to feature a predominantly Asian cast. This certainly marks a positive moment for representation in Hollywood, and the film presents a bunch of bankable acting talent that Hollywood could be utilizing more often.
Crazy Rich Asians might not live up to the expectations of its outspoken buzz—a film doesn’t need to be a masterpiece to feature positive representation—but it does provide a rousing, if not formulaic, experience.
The film positions its romantic core in the middle of a broad depiction of class disparity. Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is an ambitious economics professor in New York, where she has been dating Nick Young (Henry Golding) for just over a year. Nick invites Rachel to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore, where she will meet his family.
When their flight accommodations are much more than her budget would allow, Rachel finds out that Nick belongs to an exceedingly wealthy family. Ignoring for convenience sake that they never discussed his family in the year of their relationship, this reveal sets the stage for a showdown between Rachel and Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh).
Rachel is, at least initially, just trying to make a good impression. But Eleanor, from the onset, looks down on Rachel, seeing her as nothing more than an American transplant focused on selfish ambitions. This conflict is the major through-line of the film, providing the most intriguing discourse and a wonderful set piece involving a mahjong game. All the same, it is a rather monochrome interpretation of class divide, simplified to make room for romantic drama.
On the perimeter of this conflict is a wide assortment of characters and subplots. Nick’s sister Astrid (Gemma Chan) has relationship problems of her own. An old flame of Nick’s (Jing Lusi), who now works for his family, reappears to cause trouble. One of the groomsmen (Jimmy O. Yang), who has a rocky past with Nick, is a wildcard presence. Rachel’s friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina) and her creepy father (Ken Jeong) are there. The list goes on.
The film is jam-packed with colorful characters presenting tangents. Some of these subplots are resolved harmoniously, but most are merely used to populate the film. The acting ensemble is remarkable where their character arcs are less consistent.
The film condenses much in its adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s work, but the main plot remains an ample source of entertainment. As much as there is formula at work, tired traps are not fallen into. Rachel and Nick’s relationship is rock solid. In true rom-com fashion, this relationship is strained. However, it is not by some lazy contrivance that the relationship is rocked in the third act, but through a well-developed, theme-driven conflict.
In short, Crazy Rich Asians is a character-driven romantic film that leans into tropes without falling victim to them. As jumbled as it can be, it has its own voice within the context of genre. Armed with fantastic performances from Wu and Yeoh, the film coasts along breezily in spite of its flaws.
Crazy Rich Asians: B
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)