For this review, Alex and I are happy to have as a guest writer our friend Gabriela Crespo, who actually read the book “Crazy Rich Asians” that this film was adapted from. We’ve placed her review at the end because like movies, reviews should get more interesting as they go along. Also, she delves a little deeper into comparisons between the book and movie, and even explores a few spoilers.
If, like me, you hadn’t read Kevin Kwan’s book before, the plot is as follows. Nick Young (Henry Golding) invites his girlfriend Rachel (Constance Wu) to travel with him to Singapore to meet his family and attend his best friend’s wedding. To Rachel’s surprise, Nick’s family is rich. Crazy rich, which the film spends a little too much time constantly reminding us. Obviously this leads to family strife and tension in the young couple’s relationship. I don’t want to give away any more of the plot in order to avoid spoilers, but it’s all entertaining, if very formulaic, romantic comedy stuff.
The performances are the highlight of the film, and I can’t think of any that were subpar. The diversity of personalities on screen is a treat and makes the film stand out from other recent romantic comedy fare. Michelle Yeoh, who plays Nick’s controlling mother, and Constance Wu deliver performances worthy of Oscar consideration. The script, however, does not. Subtract the performances, the stunning art direction and the diversity, and what you’re left with is a very formulaic, been-there-done-that story of love clashing with class. Again, I have a feeling the series of books were a little braver, maybe a little darker. It would be impossible to condense everything from the series into a two hour film, but I wish the filmmakers had chosen to spend more time on certain characters, particularly one who shows up near the end of the film, and spent less time on the wealth porn that takes up a lot of the film’s earlier scenes.
One final thought: I usually hate weddings in film. I generally just don’t get pulled into them, and I really hate extravagant, ridiculously expensive weddings in film and in real life. But there is a wedding halfway through this film that I really admired. The composition, costumes and music in this scene were incredibly moving. No other film has given me a wedding ceremony has ever held my attention the way this one did.
Looking for a fun movie with a diverse cast? Crazy Rich Asians is for you. Full disclosure: I had only read the first ten pages of the book before seeing the film. So, unfortunately, I can’t comment on the authenticity of the adaptation. However, as an outsider, I really enjoyed this film. Visually, it was beautiful. It was shot in a colorful and bold color palette that made the scenes come to life in front of us. The performances in this film were also top notch. Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh were remarkable. And, Awkwafina was the funniest part of the whole film.
Unfortunately, though, the plot of this film was nothing new. It is something we have seen time and time again. I think the diversity of the cast helped to make you forget about this issue, but it was still present. The other thing that helped was that the viewers are immersed in a new culture. So, even though it was a plot line that we are familiar with, it still felt new in a way.
There were some pacing issues, especially in the first half of the film. There were moments that the feel-good family moments were overwhelming and the plot needed to be more present. And there were also some minor characters that had very intriguing story lines that I wish had been focused on more. Overall, though, I found this film to be very enjoyable. I hope that this film is the beginning of seeing more all minority casts. Honestly, it was a nice change that I can’t recall a single white character from this film.
For anyone growing up during the 80s and 90s, the peak of rom-coms seemed ever-growing, ever-expanding, and constantly setting new heights. The comfort of a well-known formula, with its peaks and valleys, was irresistible. Audiences expected a meet cute, a blossoming romance, a turn for the worse —usually in the form of a hidden identity, and a resolution. A flawless blueprint that built the most solid foundation of storytelling.
And then the 2000s came around, with an endless parade of immature men, controlling women, and sparkly vampires. The genre was officially dead, long live Nicholas Sparks! There was no comfort to be found in romantic comedies, no fear that somehow they wouldn’t work out their tragic breakup, even if we knew they always end up figuring it out. We turned to drama, to history, to horror, and to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Somehow, the end of rom-coms only brought a devil of another kind: The Avengers. All hope was lost, as we collectively turned to Bucky with the bad hair and the lamest personification of Loki in any realm, for literally an Infinity (War).
When I first read Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, I had to end the book that same day. It was the kind of funny, extravagant love story that I had grown up watching. It felt like an updated Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks/Julia Roberts flick, but with an all-Asian cast. Perma goosebumps, right? We had finally caught up to the year of our lord, 2018. It felt long overdue, and still groundbreaking. I can hear you say “but what about The Joy Luck Club?” and my only answer is: “Excellent film, TWENTY-FIVE YEAR GAP. Please try again later.”
Led by the ever-delightful Constance Wu, at the top of her game, the casting is impeccable. Wu’s Rachel Chu is instantly likable, authentic, and captivating. Her counterpart, Henry Golding is as charming as a stupidly-handsome dude with a British accent is bound to be, aka Nick Young. Their chemistry is palpable, their interactions a mixture of sweet, funny, and unabashedly hot. This bubble of bliss is contrasted by Awkwafina and Ken Jeong’s hysterical family dynamics, as the nouveau-riche Goh family, elevating Peik Lin and Wye Mun’s eccentricity to a guaranteed laugh whenever they’re in frame. Gemma Chan and Michelle Yeoh provide the tenser, most dramatic moments of the movie as Astrid Leong and Eleanor Young, Nick’s cousin and mother, respectively. Astrid’s beauty will make you want to cry, and her circumstances will once and for all break your heart. Eleanor’s sense of duty leads her on a warpath, and Yeoh’s superb performance will make you hate her, fear her, and admire her. The women in the cast are the strongest point of the film, with consistently masterful acting from Wu, Yeoh, Chan, and Awkwafina.
Unfortunately, the balance between plot and montages falls short. Director Jon M. Chu tried to squeeze every bit of spare footage featuring Singapore, admittedly jaw-dropping in every angle, but ultimately feeling like a travel ad. Chu’s work shines when he lets the cast perform, such as the silent exchange between Nick and Rachel at his best friend’s wedding, where Wu’s exquisite acting will leave you breathless with feeling. Another high point of the film was the beautifully coordinated game of mahjong between Rachel and Eleanor.
In all honesty, I was always going to love this film, regardless of its merits or shortcomings. It’s the kind of love that comes from finally seeing Asians represented in screen, with actual characterization, with all kinds of different accents, and still holding onto their own culture. As an adapted manuscript, Crazy Rich Asians remained faithful to its first iteration, only sacrificing minor plots that somehow were reworked into the narrative, thus flattening Astrid’s marriage woes, cleverly inserting Awkwafina’s comedic prowess as Peik Lin in scenes she wasn’t a part of, and neatly resolving the ending.
Oh, excuse me. I should’ve mentioned: SPOILER ALERT.
In the book, there isn’t an engagement. Rachel and Kerry leave, and it is unclear whether she will try to find her father, or if there is any hope of reconciliation between her and Nick. A bold move considering there are two more books available, and the cliffhanger would have only made audiences want to consume this trilogy faster. While the mahjong scene might be my favorite of the film, it was never part of the book. The warm and fuzzies never come, as they part ways and Nick’s mother reigns supreme. It speaks of a hesitance to commit to three films, a fear of under-performing. After all, Stephenie Meyer’s monstrosities were never at peril, even with Everest-sized, break-neck cliffhangers. If you’re able to support this movie while it remains in theaters, I urge to do so. We need the unbridled joy of another installment, and we need to show that we support representation. That it matters. That we want to set new heights, not just for the genre, but for the stories that are told.