A Rich or Crazy Rom-Com?
Yep, been a while hasn’t it? Had a lot of exciting goings on in my life, not least of which has been starting a new job in a completely different field of law. While it’s been too long since my last review, it’s time to get back on the saddle and review some movies. Today’s entry comes by demand of a few people, so let’s take a look at the summer’s pleasant success story of Crazy Rich Asians.
So we have Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an economics professor at NYU, accepting an invitation to Singapore to meet her boyfriend Nick Young’s (Henry Golding) family at the wedding of his childhood friend. Kept in blissful ignorance of his family for the year they have been dating, Rachel discovers that Nick is an incredibly wealthy heir to one of the most powerful families in all of Asia with multiple dysfunctional cousins all lead by the commanding and domineering matriarch, Eleanor Sung-Young (Michelle GODDAMN Yeoh). However, meeting the family doesn’t go all that great as Rachel is quietly harassed by multiple jealous suitors of Nick and Eleanor makes it clear to Rachel, in no uncertain terms, that she does not approve of their relationship due to the financial and cultural differences between Nick and Rachel’s upbringings. So Rachel must navigate the treacherous waters of the Young family with the help of her college friend Goh Pek Lin (Awkawafina) and the “rainbow sheep” of Nick’s family, Oliver (Nico Santos).
First, props to the studio for being the first Hollywood film 25-friggin-years since The Joy Luck Club to feature an all-Asian cast. I’ve long held that diversity is definitely a good thing in this industry, and God knows Asians have been treated rough by Hollywood these past few years. But as Black Panther clearly demonstrated earlier this year, allowing a minority culture to make the film they want to make from the director, writer and cast on down can lead to some interesting results even on well-trodden ground.
Because Crazy Rich Asians is at its core, a romantic comedy, a genre that has suffered a sad decay in recent years as female audiences began to ignore them in favor of post-apocalyptic YA adaptations (before that genre died horribly and quicker still). And all the usual trappings of a romantic comedy are all here and accounted for: comedic relief side characters, main breeding pair go through some sort of conflict that society/family/both create, a fashion montage, and cinematography of people livin’ up extravagant lifestyles. And yet, the film not only utilizes each of these tropes effectively but the casting and source material deliver a very unique perspective that isn’t brought up in media at all.
Right off the bat, the film does a decent job at making you give a damn about the relationship between Nick and Rachel. It helps that Constance Wu and Henry Golding are both highly attractive, instantly charismatic, and practically filled with romantic chemistry that you immediately buy that these two are young and in love. That might seem like a low bar to pass, but trust me when I say that I have MANY romcoms (notably ones starring Kate Hudson or Katherine Heigel) that positively screw up this incredibly basic principle. Anyways, their dialogue and interactions with each other communicate to the audience that they truly care for one another on more than a physical level, but truly see the other as a soul mate. This sort of connection helps to establish what is at stake in the movie when the conflict rears its head.
And unlike many a painful romcom, the conflict that Crazy Rich Asians provides is not only realistic, it’s practically menacing. See Michelle Yeoh plays the role as an absolutely relentless force to be reckoned with. The other characters take great care not to piss her off, and her very calm and cold demeanor makes for a frighteningly great antagonist. Particularly in one very memorable scene where she at first approaches Rachel in a soothing, motherly way (disarming both her and the audience) before she delivers the biggest emotional gut punch that lays out her simple but effective ethos: Rachel will NEVER be good enough for her son. Doesn’t matter if she is a self-made woman who teaches an important course in a prestigious university, doesn’t matter if she makes her son happy, Rachel could NEVER take the reigns of Eleanor’s family the way she did.
All of this brings a fascinating look into the conflict between Asian-American immigrants and the cultures that continued on without them. All of this is way more interesting than the class divide between Rachel and Nick, which is only paid the barest of lip service. All of a sudden, the idea of self-worth defined by your family or by your career is put into a different lens that sees the choice as a zero-sum game, one with emotions running high on either side. THIS creates intrigue, THIS creates stakes, THIS is how you make me give a damn about your friggin’ movie.
And if the film was simply this intense family drama, I would have given the film a decent enough recommendation, but Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t stop there. It gives you not one, not two, but three damn comic relief characters that each release the tension at just the right moment and never out staying their welcome. Awkawafina is pretty fun in her role, and Ken Jeong drops by to drop a few jokes too, but the standout from the three was definitely Nico Santos as Oliver. Flamboyant, catty, and endlessly charming, he’s the gay best friend every straight woman dreams about having. Hell he even steals quite a few scenes while he’s at it and when the film isn’t demonstrating just how absurdly wealthy this family is.
See this film shows extravagance on a whole another level. Everything from the wedding, to the parties, to the food is as bombastic and larger-life-as-possible. While such displays of wealth may turn off the less…capitalist-enthused patrons in the audience, it’s hard not to laugh at the utter ridiculousness of money being thrown on screen. And much props to the director John M. Chu for managing to balance this tricky balancing act as well. Say, while we’re here, let me check into Chu’s IMDB profile. Surely such a good film couldn’t be the work of a first-time director?
WHAT THE FLYING HELL? This guy, the guy who directed this lovely little film I was enjoying, made one of my all-time WORST films that I have ever seen. I mean no hyperbole when this man directed one of the most excruciating experiences I have ever had in a theater: Jem and the Holograms. Well…let this be a lesson to all of you. It doesn’t matter how stinky of a piece of crap you can deliver, there is ALWAYS a chance at redemption. (Hear that Kevin Smith?) So congrats, Chu, you just walked away my shit-list…don’t get cocky.
So without further ado, let’s give Crazy Rich Asians a very enthusiastic…
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