This contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family.
I was hoping Crazy Rich Asians, based on Kevin Kwan’s popular novel by the same name, would be as fun as it looks; however, I was immediately put off by the stilted performance of Constance Wu (Rachel Chu), and the deliberate exploitation of shirtless men. The movie does not disappoint in sticking close to its Cinderella, rom-com trope–rich boy loves common girl from the other side of the tracks. Difficulties predictably ensue when the in-love couple reaches boy’s home turf of Singapore–a city on display that challenges the duo for the audience’s attention. This film is simultaneously a tourist ad for all things Asian IN Asia. On display–glittering skyscrapers, monumental monuments, delectable nosh, enviable fashion galore, and an opulent wedding (a rom-com is nothing if it doesn’t recall a bit of Jane Austen by the end).
Henry Golding (Nick) is something to swoon over, and the fun presentation by director Jon Chu, with social media pop-up texts and animated graphics sailing across the screen is well matched by the lively and endearing performance of YouTube sensation Awkwafina (Peik Lin Goh), who plays Rachel’s college comrade. The former’s quirky family adds to the comedic relief, though I will admit I did not once laugh out loud. However, Peik’s father Ken Jeong (Hangover, Transformers) brought me close with his anticipated comedic shtick.
Disappointingly, an hour in, things reach ridiculous proportions during the bachelor and bachelorette parties, salvaged only by a return to the expected separation of lovers who are left to resolve their impending heartbreak. There are no surprises here, but the quarter century celebrated actor Michelle Yeoh (Nick’s seemingly wicked mother, who is ironically devoted to Christianity) is worth every penny as we watch her stealthily dish out a winning performance–in charge and resolved to navigate her family interests according to her cultural priorities. Those familiar with Eastern history will appreciate the dynamics between traditional values and modern individualism–even as Eleanor reluctantly relents, she embodies behavioral codes one would expect of a dynastic goddess.
Overall, I was wishing they had done so much more with this movie. I suppose the When Harry Met Sallys and Sleepless in Seattles are rare today, and the indie genre has usurped the much-hoped-for clever twists and memorable moments. There are indeed whole subplots that are unnecessary, a true waste of Gemma Chan’s (Astrid’s) talent, whose broken marriage is no more than a foil to the pure devotion between Nick and Rachel.
The Dove Take
It is Eleanor, not surprisingly, who steals the limelight and brings substance to this high-spirited romp as she is challenged in the end to modify her beliefs and conventions for moral purposes while playing the ancient game of Mahjong with Rachel. This is the real clever moment, for it triggers those of us who hold onto tried and true institutions to consider that as times change, perhaps attitudes can—and even should—as well. However, Eleanor’s grave demeanor in the final scene reminds us that not even romantic love can abolish centuries-old customs.
As a result of profane language and sexual suggestion, Dove is unable to award Crazy Rich Asians the Dove-Approved Seal.