Written by: Peter Chiarelli & Adele Lim
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina
Even when facing discrimination from others in power, people in minority groups always manage to harm members from within. It becomes a constant game of trying to put others beneath you in order to be above someone. Nearly every ethnic group has some iteration of this and Crazy Rich Asians displays this struggle within the Asian community and it gets nicely wrapped into a beautiful and touching romantic comedy.
Working as an economics professor at New York University, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) lives a good life with her loving boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Goulding). When Nick asks Rachel to attend a family wedding in Singapore, she learns about the immense wealth he comes from and how complicated their future could be if she were to join this extravagant family and lifestyle.
With the promises to follow the typical romantic comedy tropes, Crazy Rich Asians initially appears to be a nice light affair to enjoy, but it delivers so much more. Sure, its plot points are telegraphed and somewhat predictable, but it manages to pull off a deeply emotional story and one that opens up a larger conversation of what it means to be a real Asian. Primarily, this battle occurs between Rachel and Nick’s mother brilliantly portrayed by Michelle Yeoh. The conflict forming between them does not have the simple mother who does not believe anyone is good enough for her son, but instead, it comes from a more harmful place. She believes Rachel cannot measure up because of the American roots she comes from. Nick’s mother believes Americans put themselves before others and fears Rachel will do the same by putting her career over honoring the family among other things. This issue of being American along with another ethnicity group has its troubles in the United States, but it also presents its own issues back where the minority identity becomes the majority.
This can be seen in the Latinx community, where harmful names can be held for those who have been Americanized and no longer have either the language capacity or proper behavior of the mother country. Rachel has everything you could need to assimilate into each culture, including having a strong grasp of both languages. She’s proficient at knowing the customs but in the eyes of Nick’s mother, she will never belong or be enough. An insurmountable mountain appears, but we have a strong and balanced protagonist to follow.
While the central conflict has some real substance, Crazy Rich Asians promises to show what the title refers to. Nick’s family has an exorbitant amount of wealth and they fully display it in this film. From the giant mansions to the lavish parties being put on by the couple getting married, lavishness is on the menu in this movie. It works in putting Rachel in a fish out of water circumstance. She cannot fathom the cost of the lifestyle of these people and she receives this first introduction when she initially stays with her friend from college, Goh Peik Lin, portrayed by Awkwafina. With her, Rachel learns about how Lin’s very rich family looks poor as compared to Nick’s. It seems absurd until you see the absolute opulent nonsense on display.
Plenty of scenes bring those typical romantic comedy moments we all yearn for, but they happen in such a beautifully organic way in how they display Singapore in a way most Americans have never experienced. They certainly show extreme opulence, but they also display what it’s like to eat the food on the streets, where it will make you put Singapore at the top of your travel list. It feels so rich and these great characters shine but also beautifully blend into the environment.
Along with the conflict of the mother, the whole fiasco of a wedding occurs, which Rachel finds herself trying to survive. She quickly makes friends with Nick’s cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan), who’s going through her own issues with her relationship. Spending time away from Nick’s mom would hopefully serve as a respite for her, but Rachel then gets the opportunity to learn about the ruthless behavior of the people jealous of her relationship with Nick. The jealousy does not necessarily stem from them being attracted to Nick, but more so Nick being the heir to nearly all of the family fortune. Essentially, he’s a prince and the other women are minor royals trying to take down the village girl the prince decided to marry. It just gets crazier when seeing Rachel is such an accomplished woman in her own right as a professor at NYU, but it means nothing to these scarily rich people.
I cannot believe I’ve gotten this far in the review and it’s the first time mentioning the relationship between Nick and Rachel. Typically the focal point of any romantic comedy, their love takes a bit of a backseat to the larger story but it still has some genuinely beautiful moments. As they get washed up in all of the drama happening around them, their love remains as strong as ever, which all comes together in a tear-inducing sequence of the wedding scene. A moment that utilizes its production design, costume design, music choice, cinematography, direction, and acting to pure perfection. It’s a scene I like to randomly throw on because of the pure beauty on display and how much love can be emitted by simply looking at someone in the eyes.
The direction by John Chu beautifully invites us into this world of craziness and family. From what my wife told me, the adaptation of this film to the screen manages to supersede the source material and I can see why. Chu allows the relationships of these characters to majestically flourish right before our eyes. It trims down some of the ancillary storylines and really cuts into the more important scenes necessary to tell such a moving story.
With mild expectations heading into it, Crazy Rich Asians stunned me with its poignancy and the level of substance it was willing to tackle within a genre often criticized for being shallow at times. This film is everything as it allows the love between Nick and Rachel to blossom while also opening up a larger conversation about identity and what it means for each of these characters. I laughed, cried, and cheered for the several emotionally resonant moments laid out through the story. Certainly one of my favorite romantic comedies and one you can watch with your loved ones easily. Very digestible while also incredibly rich with its themes. Truly a majestic feature that has done wonders for representation and I cherish it for all its meaning and silliness.