Monday, November 19, 2018

Girl Week 2018: Crazy Rich Asians

It's here! It's here! It's finally here! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have finally reached Girl Week 2018. This is the time of year when we make sure to celebrate the ladies who grace the silver (or flat) screen by only talking about movies with female lead characters. I hope you can join us by posting your own entry. If not, then please check out all the festivities by reading all the entries here and on other blogs. Let's get started with my first entry of the week.

Directed by Jon M. Chu.
2018. Rated PG-13, 121 minutes.
Constance Wu
Henry Golding
Michelle Yeoh
Gemma Chan
Lisa Lu
Ken Jeong
Selena Tan
Nicos Santos
Sonoya Mizuno
Chris Pang
Jimmy O. Yang

Rachel Chu (Wu) is an economics professor at NYU and dating a handsome fellow by the name of Nick Young (Golding). Unbeknownst to her, he comes from a ridiculously wealthy and powerful family in China. Unfortunately for her, everyone else in the universe is in on this fact. While they’re out grabbing a bite to eat, he asks her to come home with him to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. She accepts. Within minutes, thanks to some prying eyes and the wonders of social media, the entire Chinese-American community knows about it. The news even reaches across the seas to Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Yeoh), who is none too pleased that her son is dating down. Lots of cold shoulders and relationship evaluating ensues.

On the surface, Crazy Rich Asians does what romantic comedies do. It goes dutifully down the genre checklist with hardly a variation. We know what’s going to happen and when. The whole plot is an unimaginative set of dominoes that falls in unspectacular fashion. Clearly the weakest part of the film, this is what its detractors will cling to. Doing so, however, ignores the film’s many strengths which make up for its weaknesses. Those include the subtext bubbling just below that surface. Getting beyond the film’s veneer might prove difficult, however, because it is beautiful to look at. The cinematography is off the charts. Every shot is perfectly framed and lit. A great number of them are jaw-dropping. Still, in the end, these are only pretty pictures.

When we manage to dig through the charming exterior and get to the guts of the thing, we find a meaningful examination of classism. It’s pretty open about looking at how it affects those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. The movie loses minor points because Rachel is already, without question, upwardly mobile. Even that, however, is important to the film’s best quality. It’s more implicitly, and poignantly, about how classism affects someone who overcame it but still feels threatened by others attempting to do the same, forever in fear of someone else taking their spot. Nick’s mom Eleanor is that person. Her storyline is hardly free of predictability. On the other hand, it’s so powerfully acted by Michelle Yeoh, we don’t mind at all. I’ve been watching her for years, but almost exclusively in martial arts actioners. She is a legend in that genre, yet I had no idea she had the type of chops she displays here. She is easily the most compelling person on the screen every time she appears. When she’s not visible, her presence hangs around Rachel’s neck like a noose siphoning the will from her lungs. It’s Yeoh’s best work, relying not on her physicality, but on her vulnerability and the lengths to which she goes to present herself as invincible and infallible.

Lead actress Constance Wu is no slouch, either. I wouldn’t say she delivers a great performance, but she conveys enough internal conflict to keep us interested. It’s not enough to throw us off the movie’s scent for even one second, but she does a very nice job with the role she’s given. Leading man Henry Golding isn’t asked to do much more than be a pretty face with an impressive set of abs. He complies, neither helping nor hurting the production. In terms of importance to our enjoyment, he lags far behind the supporting cast. It’s easiest to point out rising star, Awkwafina, who holds down the best friend role. She’s most counted on to bring the humor. She mostly delivers but I get that she can be grating. Lisa Lu plays Nick’s grandmother and gives the film every bit of its heart and warmth despite being mostly off-screen. The destined-to-be-overlooked Selena Tan plays Nick’s Aunt Alix and brings the most consistent laughter, along with Nico Santos as Nick’s cousin Oliver. For some, he might be a bit too stereotypically gay, though. The movie never really gets to knee-slapping levels of funny, but it gives us a nice, steady stream of small chuckles.

Aside from the plot, the movie’s biggest miss is what the plot ignores for far too long: Rachel’s relationship with her mother. Given how important it is to what eventually happens, there should be more of it to sink our teeth into. The two women share a very nice chemistry during the brief moments they share the screen. I would’ve gladly sacrificed some of those gorgeous establishing shots and cut down some of the party scenes to get more of them together.

As it stands, this is a really good rom-com despite much of its copy-and-paste nature. The key is that its excellent enough in most other areas that we don’t mind traveling a road we’ve been on many times before. Some will maintain that the reason we don’t mind is because of the ethnicity of the people on the screen. This movie has engendered a swell of pride of ownership within the Asian-American community. I mean, it’s been a quarter century since Hollywood produced a movie with an all-Asian cast which is silly, to say the least. Still, that’s not why it succeeds. It succeeds because, regardless of its shortcomings, Crazy Rich Asians does lots of things right and puts them together in a very pretty, highly enjoyable package.


  1. My mother really wants to see this as she is someone fascinated by Asian culture while I'm still unsure.

    1. I think this would be a great film to take in with mom.

  2. I will see this film once it comes on DVD. I love Michelle Yeoh from her being the first “Bond” girl who could hold her own against Bond...before Halle Berry and much better. She also grabbed me from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where she tears your heart out with her love story. This sounds like a nice rom-com movie like My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It sounds like the writing is much to blame which is a shame.

    1. Michelle Yeoh is great in everything and she just kills it, here. And yeah, a much better Bond girl than Halle Berry. The writing is pretty much paint-by-numbers, as far as plot points go, but it is better when dealing with characters.

  3. Add me to the list of those who haven't seen this yet but will once it comes out on DVD. That being the case I only skimmed your review but it sounds like fun, I'm a sucker for romantic comedy.

  4. I really liked this. I'm not crazy about rom coms at all so this ended up being one of the better ones I've seen.

  5. While I don't think it's the rom-com game changer that some do, I still found myself caught up in the absolute charm of this thing. I really, really enjoyed it. Certainly more than I thought I would.