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Review: "Crazy Rich Asians"

by Chris Feil

Crazy Rich Asians feels like something sterling from the past, the kind of wholly satisfying and rapturous romantic comedy that we bemoan is missing from the multiplex. Director Jon M. Chu’s loving embrace of the genre pulls its influences from across the decades, infusing Doris Day/Rock Hudson rompiness with the cutting character detail of The Devil Wears Prada. It’s a high mark that the film clears and safely so, sliding with ease onto a shelf next to your rewatchable favorites - and it’s been a minute since something new joined the ranks.

The film’s massive ensemble is led by Constance Wu as Rachel Chu, a self-made economics professor set for her fated meeting with the overseas family of her charming boyfriend Nick Young, played by a painfully dashing Henry Golding. Unbeknownst to Rachel, this family wedding getaway is about to thrust her center stage in front of one of the wealthiest families in Singapore. And all of the generational expectations and deceptive opulence that entails...

Rachel’s more humble background yields some quick assumptions and cruelties from the family, continually highlighting the class and cultural divide between them and the American-born Rachel. Meanwhile their ingrained demands play out in their own individual ways across the Youngs and the adjacent T’Siens and Chengs, making for a sprawling descendency as eccentric as it is fractious. But no one’s dismissal of Rachel comes as tied to their own experience with these expectations as Michelle Yeoh as Nick’s mother Eleanor.

Yeoh is ferocious and surprisingly heartrending as the matriarch, delivering a first look at Rachel that lands a dozen acting beats so fast it makes your head spin. Not unlike Meryl Streep’s vicious nuance to Miranda Priestly, the actress takes every opportunity to complicate Eleanor’s emotional underpinnings and present a woman that’s so much more than the villain she’s positioned as. Her Eleanor’s affection is enmeshed in her pain, all of it suppressed by her function and finely tuned sense of self-negotiation. She’s all the more compelling for making us feel for her while she keeps us at arm’s length, taking our breath away after sending a chill up our spine.

The film’s final showdown between Eleanor and Rachel is a match made in romantic comedy actressing heaven, a showcase for both stars and a distillation of all of the film’s themes into one glorious moment. The film’s cultural significance is almost metatextual here, driving both the conflict between them and the rousing catharsis it allows. Up until now, Wu delivers a performance of sharp and casual comedic force, the kind of film-shouldering effortlessness that often goes underappreciated. But in going toe to toe with the deeply formidable Yeoh and seizing its vital emotional context, Wu proves to be a full-fledged movie star.

Crazy Rich Asians is simply a great time at the movies built to relieve through catharsis and creature comforts alike. The film is a borderline pornographic display of abs, fabrics, floral, and food, delivering the kind of summer escapism that indulges our senses between pulling heartstrings. While the jampacked ensemble offers delights with even the smallest players, our crowdpleaser is Awkwafina as Rachel’s college friend and Singapore confidant Peik Lin, offering plainspoken audience surrogacy and some of the year’s biggest belly laughs. All this makes for a slick piece of pop adaptation, occasionally dulling Kwan’s sharper Austenian edges but also streamlining what meandered on the page. It begs a little more bite, with its conventionally becoming a hindrance, if partly the point - ambition isn’t the name of the game.

But while the film is rooted in the fenceposts of romantic comedy tradition, it also feels like a gift from a more promising near future, one where its shattering of the homogenized status quo isn’t even less common than its genre. We all may have been waiting a long time for something with the romantic charms of Crazy Rich Asians, but some in the audience have been waiting much longer for something to represent its world. That importance beats its heart onto the screen, creating a lovingly made movie to love all the more.

Grade: B+

Oscar Chances: We'll withhold our Best Popular Film thoughts until we get some category clarity. However, should the Academy not be so frightened by the contemporary and the playful, the film would be a worthy Costume Design and Art Direction nominee. But a Best Supporting Actress push for Michelle Yeoh can and should happen!

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Reader Comments (22)

I loved it! Simple, but by no means dumb. Light, but with enough emotional beats and such attention to character detail to keep it from being fluff. Just a great time with a wonderful cast. I can already see dropping everything for the 1000th time whenever it pops up on TV.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVal

If Michelle Yeph actually gets an Oscar nomination for this, I'll probably cry. (Tears of joy, of course.)

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCash

This was really good!

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNikki

Having trouble caring with no movie stars in it...romantic comedies are for movie stars in my opinion. I realize there aren't many Asian movie stars, but still, even a John Cho would do.

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTr

Tr: Constance Wu sure deserves to be a movie star, and this movie just might make her one. Here's hoping!

Can't wait to see this!

August 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

I saw it a few days ago at a free screening and even though I enjoyed it, I feel like it's being oversold because of the historical weight. I do agree with Chris that Wu and Yeoh are great and bring much needed complexity to thin roles. Overall it's decent but hardly anything remarkable in terms of the quality.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKiki

FYC: Michelle Yeoh in CRA for Best Supporting Actress. Spread the words!!!

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSTFU

I always find Michelle Yeoh’s acting terribly wooden. Looking forward to this film & hope Michelle proves me wrong! Agree Constance Wu deserves movie stardom! If the film is hugely popular/ successful might we see her slip into the best actress discussion? Golden Globe for comedy at least??

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterChoog


August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterYEAH

Of all the movies released this year this is the one that I want to go great in the box office.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKenny Fillis

Yay! Can't wait.

Heard the director and the author (of the source material) in an interview. Some big studio wanted the project but said "We love it, but the lead should be a white girl." Thank goodness the filmmakers said, "Uh, no. That's not the point. You can keep your money, we'll go elsewhere."

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Pam: Also, I think Netflix ALSO offered them a lot of money to have this on their service and they essentially said, "screw that, this needs to be on the big screen."

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Michelle Yeoh needs her make up nomination for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".

I work in a department of roughly 50 % people of Asian descent, most of them Filipino, so I have been urging them to see this on a political level at least. If you want to see representation on the big screen, you must use your entertainment dollar wisely.

Looking forward to this myself, as a transplanted Midwestern Caucasian.

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Since Michelle Yeoh is the greatest Bond Girl ever, I have high hopes for her here. I loved the books and I hope this one makes enough money to warrant the two followup sequel movies.

PS I hope there's lots of eye candy!

August 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood

Very uncharacteristicly succinct, on topic and interesting comment Volvagia. Keep it up! :)

August 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBing

I could so see Yeoh happening!!!

August 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

"The film is a borderline pornographic display of abs, fabrics, floral, and food.."

Well, I'm there!

August 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

this was a fun sit, it achieves its ambitions of being a glossy frothy romantic comedy.

August 16, 2018 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

This didn't play well for me at all. Awkwafina for all the twitter push back against her appropriating Black culture was the true MVP of the movie. Yeoh who I root for has nothing in the end to warrant that supporting actress push.

August 18, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I loved every single second of this film. The production values, the locations, THE MUSIC, the fashion, THAT WEDDING, Gemma Chan's face, Henry Golding's everything, Yeoh/Wu scenes, THAT ENDING... it was honestly overwhelming. I cried a few times.

August 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

I loved it! It delivered everything I want from a rom-com and seemed like a return to the '90s formula for the genre, before Apatow ruined them. I also that Awkwafina is the MVP and actually think she deserves a Best Supporting Actress push. The costumes were gorgeous.

August 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Despite an underexplored subplot, Gemma Chan was the MVP for me. Michelle Yeoh was wonderful, too, and Awkwafina stole every scene she was in.

Great, great fun!

August 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

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