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‘Crazy Rich Asians’ (review)

Produced by Nina Jacobson,
Brad Simpson, John Penotti

Screenplay by Adele Lim, Peter Chiarelli
Based on Crazy Rich Asians
by Kevin Kwan

Directed by Jon M. Chu
Starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding,
Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Lisa Lu,
Nico Santos, Ken Jeong, Michelle Yeoh

 

Being good enough for the in-laws is a universal story, as is poor girl meets rich guy and falls in love.

But Crazy Rich Asians makes these old tales new to most audiences and remarkably familiar to others.

Weaving in concepts of class, tradition, and East Asian culture, director Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2) has created a modern day romance that is glitzy, bright, strong, and most important of all: crazy enjoyable.

So much of the success is due to the authentically adorable pairing of Constance Wu as Rachel Chu and Henry Golding as Nick Young. Their comfort with each other gives honesty and weight to a movie that could easily float away with superficiality.

As a Chinese-American professor of game theory, Rachel is not one to back down from a challenge. Wu brings her no-nonsense style to many of the scenes, but there’s also a joy and lightness that she has not been able to showcase on some of her most recent castings. It creates a sweet dynamic with Nick, who may have more family money than several fleets of Kardashians but knows that Rachel values a part of him that is not attached to a bank statement. Henry Golding is earnest and confident in his performance, and every bit the dashing but approachable billionaire that this rom-com formula thrives on.

Kevin Kwan’s worldwide best-selling novel is rich for film adaptation in many ways, but the lavish set dressing and costuming excels at bringing to life the high-fashion and old money style from the page.

From luxurious first class flight accommodations that shame actual living quarters to wedding arrangements (and press coverage) that seem impossible outside of the monarchy, the audience is reminded in ways small and large of the depths of the family fortune. Upon meeting the family for the first time, Rachel is given a wardrobe upgrade by her brash and lovable college friend Peik Lin (hilariously played by native New York rapper Awkwafina), who moved back home to her nouveaux riche family after graduating.

Rachel points out that she was wearing a simple red dress because she was told red was “lucky”, to which Awkwafina snaps “yeah, if you’re an envelope”.

These little jokes and exchanges are already entertaining, but there is a cultural lining that makes them more intimate, more meaningful, and more poignant to an Asian audience that has not seen casting at these levels (outside of a martial arts film) in over 25 years. That draught has nothing to do with talent, as the performances across the board are engaging and diverse.

From clean and cold mother-in-law Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) to problem solving black sheep Oliver (Nico Santos), each character is explored as much as possible in the all too brief 120 minute time frame. Fans of the book will note what is missing, but are also rewarded with glimpses of future names in the franchise.

The over-the-top displays of the well-to-do can be dizzying, but the romance at the center of this film keeps us grounded in what is really important. If this is only the first in the series, it creates a high bar for the following films.

Crazy Rich Asians is a rich, glamorous love story that will resonate with audiences across the board. Spend your time and money wisely by seeing it as soon as possible.

 

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