At the Movies with Hanover Matz
Crazy Rich Asians
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Opulence and extravagance are on copious display in Jon M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians. The story follows Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a young, successful Chinese-American economics professor, dating the handsome Nick Young (Henry Golding). Nick invites Rachel to join him on a trip to Singapore, his home country, to take part in his best friend’s wedding and to finally meet his family. One ritzy first-class trip later, Rachel suddenly finds out that Nick is the heir apparent to one of Singapore’s wealthiest families, and she is forced to cope with adjusting to his lavish lifestyle, meeting a gaggle of eccentric relatives, and navigating the pitfalls of Singaporean high society.
I have not read the best-selling book Crazy Rich Asians is based on, so I cannot play the age-old game of which-is-better, but I am assured by a friend the film closely follows the novel’s plot. The whirling bird’s eye view shots of Singapore’s metropolis could serve as a travel advertisement for a far East adventure: Come to Singapore! Try the street food! These are followed by scenes depicting the home of Rachel’s college friend, Peik Lin Goh, played by the wacky and entertaining Awkwafina. Peik Lin’s family represents the new wealth of Singapore: their house is a garish gilded monstrosity (humorously said to be inspired by Donald Trump’s bathroom). This is quickly contrasted with the ancestral home of Nick’s family, the old wealth of Singapore: elegant, refined, excessively rich. This serves to underscore one of the major themes of the film: you can be wealthy, you can be successful, but you can never buy your way into the upper echelons of society granted by birthright.
Rachel is, by all standards, a successful woman, but she is rejected by Nick’s mother, the icy Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) for being too much of an “outsider”, despite her Asian ancestry. This is another major theme the film brilliantly communicates: the identity crisis of second-generation immigrants, having each foot in two different cultures but being treated foreign by both. The clash of West versus East philosophy, individualism versus community, is on full display in a nuanced scene where the two women engage in a game of Mahjong. Food is another motif used throughout to convey the importance of familial bonds and the passing on of traditions, embodied in a scrumptious hand-rolled dumpling making session.
However, before you start to think, wait, isn’t this a romantic comedy? What’s all this about “philosophy”? Don’t worry. There’s plenty of gooey proclamations of love, gossiping, and high fashion. One of the highlights of the film is how the costumes and set designs explode with color and exuberance; it’s flashy pop art come to life. Every time the plot heads into contemplative territory, it veers back into scenes depicting the crazy lifestyles of the ultra-elite, the most hilarious (and excessive) being the bachelor/bachelorette parties of the bridegroom and bride to be.
There were times I wanted the dialogue to be a little bit snappier, the venomous jabs Rachel must deal with from Nick’s family to be a bit more biting, and the story to dodge a few of the worst clichés this genre cannot seem to avoid, such as characters refusing to speak to one another simply because the plot demands it. Overall, though, Crazy Rich Asians is fun, entertaining, and heartwarming, with several moments that are sure to tug at your emotions. One of my favorites occurs during the wedding of Nick’s friend, Colin (what can I say, I’m a sucker for covers of Can’t Help Falling in Love).
Ultimately, the greatest success of the film is its ability to take a culture and lifestyle foreign to many and make it accessible for any audience. The characters are human and their struggles relatable, even if it’s all wrapped in a glitzy package most of us can never experience. Questions of honoring family, parental approval, and cultural heritage are universal human experiences, and Crazy Rich Asians manages to address them all while serving up a fun, fresh, modern romance.