Crazy Rich Asians review: A satirical landmark for Hollywood

Crazy Rich Asians courtesy WB Productions
Crazy Rich Asians courtesy WB Productions /

As The Meg continues to chomp up the competition at the box office, it may meet its match in the form of the satirical romance comedy film, Crazy Rich Asians.

The structure of a romantic comedy is recognizable, if not gratingly cliched at this point in its lifespan. The romantic woes of the good-looking couple onscreen are, while always remaining intriguing and watchable to a degree, recycled to the point where a lack of concern has been adopted as the new norm for audiences paying to see this romance flicks unfold. Is that the case for Crazy Rich Asians?

It’s simple and frustratingly obvious what is bound to happen to our love-stricken protagonists as they fumble their way through the feeling-out stages of a relationship or engage in the most awkward family meeting you can possibly imagine.

The latter is what our main protagonist, Constance Wu’s Rachel Chu, has to deal with, as Crazy Rich Asians follows Rachel meeting the extensive family of her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding). That alone should make for an entertaining and awkward feature-length film, but in the case of Crazy Rich Asians, there is a slight twist to that worn-out narrative.

The power of a dynasty

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The awkward family reunion is intensified due to Nick Young hailing from one of the wealthiest families in all of Singapore, much to Rachel’s surprise and eventual dismay. Because not only is his family rich, but they are CRAZY rich, residing in a multi-million dollar mansion and enjoying the fruits of their labor with glee and pride.

Most prideful is Nick’s mother, Eleanor (played by the legendary Michelle Yeoh of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame), who keeps a stern eye on the woman who has, in her eyes, stolen Nick’s heart and ran away with it. It is here where Crazy Rich Asians transcends the romantic comedy genre and balances a charming atmosphere with a biting commentary on the Chinese upper-class, still influenced, according to the film and book, by an imperialist mindset that dates back centuries.

Yes, the conflict in Crazy Rich Asians is not brought on by something as simple as Rachel being a little too annoying for the family’s tastes. If anything, some of the family seem quite smitten with her, given her background as an economics professor at NYU. But no matter how much she tries to charm the pants off of everybody, the lingering issue is still in the room. Rachel is not simply meeting Nick’s family: she is coming face-to-face (literally) with a dynasty that, as expected, doesn’t take kindly to newcomers, much less an Asian-American such as herself.

Crazy Rich Asians courtesy WB Productions
Crazy Rich Asians courtesy WB Productions /

The crazy rich cast

Crazy Rich Asians runs a huge risk of becoming a shallow and unlikable film that flaunts the enormous wealth of Nick’s family in the audience’s faces and for a good portion of the film. We are subjected to exactly that.

As soon as Rachel and Nick step off, we are greeted with the many beautiful buildings and landscapes that Singapore has to offer and it only gets bigger from there. Mansions, expensive boat parties, comfy spa days, and more crowd the film’s runtime, but beneath it all lies a pulsating heart that is brought on by our lead, Constance Wu.

Wu’s command of Crazy Rich Asians is both subtle and powerful, introducing herself to the audience as a humble ball of joy, but with a sharp mindset. Rachel is the outsider looking into a world that she has not had a part of, but nonetheless tries her best to fit in, all amplified by Wu’s charming and emotional performance.

The same goes for Henry Golding, who brings a soft-spoken and down-to-earth vibe to Nick Young, who I believe could’ve easily been the film’s biggest fumble in the wrong hands. Both Rachel and Nick are hurriedly introduced to the audience before the Singapore trip, leaving us with next to nothing known about who they are as characters. It is all left on the shoulders of the cast and Golding takes a seemingly shallow pretty boy and plays him like a sweet fiddle, making up for the lack of a proper introduction that Rachel was granted.

Crazy Rich Asians courtesy WB Productions
Crazy Rich Asians courtesy WB Productions /

Where the film truly rounds out its cast are the stellar supporting performances, right down to the many family members that get a limited amount of screentime but use it to their full potential. A particular highlight was the delightful Selena Tan as the bright and kind-hearted Alix Young, the youngest of Nick’s aunts and uncles. A huge contrast from Yeoh’s intense Eleanor, Alix lights up the screen with bubbles of optimism that seem to be lacking in the large family, hinted at by her interactions with Rachel, which turn out to be some of the more civil conversations Rachel ends up having.

But the real standouts of Crazy Rich Asians are Awkwafina and Michelle Yeoh: two completely different performances that are equally as effective for their own purposes. Awkwafina is the film’s comedic giant, playing Rachel’s eccentric but loyal ex-college roommate, who also happens to be wealthy (though less of a snob in that department). Her quick comedic timing and electric charisma brought life to a film that seemed to have trouble finding its voice before then.

Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t start out crazy and the wait can be a bit tiring, but Awkwafina’s introduction brings the film to another level. It manages to stay until the end credits, with major help from Awkwafina.

Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t just benefit from its comedy as Michelle Yeoh brings the tense drama to the front end. Delivering a masterclass performance as Nick’s domineering and strong mother, she sets herself up as Rachel’s main conflict. Calling her an antagonist would feel bitter, considering her own situation that serves as her motivation for treating Rachel in such a condescending way. The film refuses to demonize her as a person, despite the story’s clear criticism of the nature of her family history and function.

Despite the craziness and shallowness that can be seen in Crazy Rich Asians, it is never reduced to a cartoonish portrayal of a dynasty’s conflict with change. There exists reason, as there always is with anything in life.

Crazy Rich Asians courtesy WB Productions
Crazy Rich Asians courtesy WB Productions /

Before heading into Crazy Rich Asians, know that this is setting up to be a wild ride. Before getting off of the ride early, consider the film’s context in terms of its importance to Hollywood cinema. One of few Hollywood films to boast an all-Asian cast, Crazy Rich Asians is both a criticism AND celebration of the different aspects of Chinese culture.

The film’s treatment of the wealthy may rub some people the wrong way. In turn, the film plays out like a grand tour of Singapore and various Chinese customs, all mixed in with a smart and charming story that may not always have a strong bite but it is powerful enough to be felt long after leaving the cinema.

Jon M. Chu’s careful direction of such a popular book is something to be applauded. Chu took a scathing story on the life of Singapore’s 1% and filled it with enough heart (many thanks going to Constance Wu’s great leading performance) and emotion to make Crazy Rich Asians a fun AND intelligent rom-com, which seems to be something of a rarity these days.

As of this writing, Crazy Rich Asians is set to possibly take in over $25 million in its first five days in theaters, which seems appropriate for a film ABOUT people making and throwing around money like its nothing. But for this film, it’s everything and the best part is that the final product proves that it has rightfully earned it in the process.

Next. Eighth Grade: An unwilling victim to the MPAA?. dark

Crazy Rich Asians has opened nationwide and is available to watch in theaters right now!