New York based economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) travels with her long term boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to Singapore so that Nick can be the best man at his friend’s wedding and so Rachel can meet his family but she soon discovers that Nick is part of one of the richest, most revered families in the world. With the help of Nick’s cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) and old college friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina), Rachel tries to cope with the scorn of several jealous and vengeful socialites and to win the approval of Nick’s intimidating and unforgiving mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who disapproves of Rachel on account of her being an American and expects Nick to break off the relationship and to remain respectful of his familial responsibilities.
Well after watching The Predator just the other day, I can reveal that this was a veritable breath of fresh air for me because Crazy Rich Asians is a charmingly winning romcom, ambitious for a mainstream Hollywood film to have an all Asian cast, and though it can’t help but include familiar tropes from the genre (you just know how it’s all going to end), its excellent script, extravagant visuals and utterly delightful cast lets the film make its mark on the crowded genre. It’s this year’s Big Sick, if you will.
The story and script is particularly strong because most of the dialogue manages to hit the ear perfectly and even though the story idea of “meeting the parents” has surely been done before in film, the script allows for some important themes about family, duty and class to shine through and having it all focusing on all Asian characters is a very big step forward in cinema, managing to be completely affectionate and never offensive. Tonally, it’s all perfectly pitched as it’s all so very charming and good natured without being syrupy or cloying and it succeeds in being funny without ever having to resort to zany, ludicrous setpieces or over the top silliness; the film has its strong script and high calibre acting to provide all the genuine laughs.
I would have to say, though, that the film hits a few snags about two thirds of the way in when things get inescapably heavy and serious and in these more sombre moments, the film loses momentum and the sense of fun and wonder that it started out with. Gemma Chan’s character also has sonething of a B-story to go alongside the main narrative but the issue is that in these moments, you may yearn for the action to return to Rachel and Nick as this side story, though quietly affecting, is a little bit too much like padding and probably should’ve been cut. And lastly, as mentioned before, there is a slight air of predictability as, this being a “Cinderella and Prince Charming find love against the odds” kind of story, there’s only really one way it could all end. With a celebration and Disney fireworks.
The film’s cast is an endearing bunch and at the head of the pack, Constance Wu is ideally cast as Rachel; her character is a credible, everyday girl who’s intelligent, passionate and lovable but also shows plenty of fierce determination as well as vulnerability and awkwardness and all in all, Wu nails all aspects of the character – providing the film with a strong foundation with her solid acting abilities and wining chemistry with the rest of the cast. And as the male lead, the Prince Charming, Henry Golding is perfectly affable, sweet and protective as Nick, giving us a romantic interest who is ideal for our heroine and watching the two of them together provide the better parts of the feature.
The supporting players are equally as strong and in particular, the mighty Michelle Yeoh is incredibly commanding and dignified as “mother in law from hell” Eleanor; never a cartoonish, condescending baddie, she presents us with a complex antagonistic character – unwavering in her determination to stop her son’s relationship but also clearly having a strong belief in family tradition and of course a love for her son, occasionally hinting that her relationship with her own parents made her the way she is. Her character’s involvement in the film’s very first scene – where she’s instantly denied access to a private hotel by prejudiced, condescending employees – is also particularly memorable.
In addition, Secret Diary‘s Gemma Chan is supportive and likeable as Nick’s warmhearted sister Astrid, Community‘s Ken Jeong provides some wacky comedy without ever going over the top as Wye Mun Goh, and as Rachel’s supportive friends, Nico Santos is lovely as designer Oliver and, fresh from her impressive but all too brief appearance in Ocean’s Eight, rapper Awkwafina is top notch in her “friend role” of Peik Lin Goh – “Asian Ellen”, as one character puts it; she puts a lot of energy into the film with her enthusiastic line delivery and is overall a most unique asset to the film. Between this and Ocean’s Eight, I’d say she’s on a roll!
Crazy Rich Asians is also a bit of a treat visually as the production design is accomplished and we’re treated to a generous host of lavish, often awe inspiring locations that are filmed beautifully. There aren’t any bad effects or anything like that and an early scene where an important piece of gossip surges through social media in a manner of seconds is a visual treat as all the split screens, effects and general style is impressively colourful, kinetic and imaginative. Brian Tyler’s score is also on the money as it’s energetic and upbeat when it needs to be but it also manages to be emotionally resonant in the more tender moments. The film also uses songs very cleverly, often giving us modernised Chinese renditions of songs that have come from artists such as Barrett Strong, Madonna and Coldplay.