Crazy Rich Asians, based on the nationwide bestseller of the same name, is this summer’s big romantic comedy release. Nick (Henry Golding) and Rachel (Constance Wu) have been dating for a year when Nick finally feels comfortable bringing Rachel back home to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding and to finally meet his family, whom Rachel knows next to nothing about. Once she arrives, she discovers that Nick is the heir to one of Asia’s richest fortunes and must win over Nick’s very traditional family – most importantly, his mother.
We meet many of Nick’s cousins who have married, started families and successful businesses, through short montages to get a feel for what kind of people they are. One is an actress-dating movie director, another is a “big finance guy” in Hong Kong. This is where we meet Astrid, an intelligent and beautiful woman who is the only member of Nick’s family Rachel has met. Astrid has married Michael, a commoner who doesn’t come from another wealthy family/bring anything to the table.
This is where the movie struggles to find its voice. The movie harms itself by spending a lot of time on Astrid’s relationship with Michael and their past and present struggles, taking away from our concern over Nick and Rachel’s romantic journey. By the end, I found myself way more interested Astrid and Michael’s fractured relationship than I was in Rachel trying to convince Nick’s family that she’s not a gold digger.
Crazy Rich Asians never really establishes where you are. Sure, the sets are lavish and bright, but I never felt like I was there in the scene. For example, when we are introduced to Singapore, the movie brings us to the local street vendors. The camera zips around from vendor to vendor, dish to dish, without us really seeing or feeling where we are.
Fortunately, some of the movie’s performances are able to overcome the lackluster script and deliver movie-saving performances. Constance Wu’s charming performance does make you root for her over Nick’s fear-inducing mother, Eleanor, played fiercely by Michelle Yeoh. Awkwafina, who plays Rachel’s former college roommate, Peik Lin, absolutely steals the movie with her energy and witty comments.
Thematically, Crazy Rich Asians is not close to a great movie due to its lack of establishing itself and its characters. Director John M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation; Now You See Me 2) is unable to bring the viewer into the exquisite world of Crazy Rich Asians.
But as I’m writing this, the movie is already a box office success, with plans of a sequel just announced. Hollywood goes where the money is. Look at the success of R-rated Deadpool, whose box-office success gave Fox the confidence to release another R-rated superhero movie, the critically-acclaimed Logan. The commercial success of Crazy Rich Asians will set the precedent for movie studios to cast more diverse actors and produce stories that aren’t just meant to be told in American culture.
Directing = 2.3 out of 5
Script = 2.6 out of 5
Beautiful and Over-the-Top Sets = 4.7 out of 5
Distracting Subplots = 4.3 out of 5
How to View: Beware of the hype and approach with reasonable expectations.