Usually I’m one to devour every buzzy bestselling novel — especially when I know Hollywood has adaptation plans in the works. But unfortunately I never got around to reading Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians … and was the only one of my friends who hadn’t. In fact, they’d all read the full trilogy and were super-excited for the movie based on the first book.
At the Crazy Rich Asians press screening, I sat next to a critic who’s like my friends: she’s a big fan of the book trilogy and follows Kwan (who often posts about the real-life inspirations for his characters and plotlines) on social media. I figured that her reaction would give me a clue as to whether or not diehards would be satisfied, whereas I would represent all the franchise newbies.
Here’s the most excellent news: we both LOVED it.
A lot of headlines have focused on how this movie is the first one in 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast (the last being The Joy Luck Club in 1993). And while there are certainly several memorable scenes that revolve around aspects of Asian culture, to me Crazy Rich Asians was a romantic comedy — and a wildly entertaining and superior one at that — that just happened to center on an Asian couple and their extended families. Anyone who’s looking for a great time at the movies is going to adore this film.
So I’ve addressed the “Asian” part of the title, but what about the whole “Crazy Rich” thing? That’s what the majority of the plot actually revolves around. Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is a successful NYU economics professor who’s been dating Nick Young (Henry Golding) for about a year, and they’re about to take a big step: she’s meeting his family for the first time at his cousin’s no-expense-spared wedding in Singapore. Rachel doesn’t know anything about Nick’s background (which is the only part of the story I took issue with … because really, who doesn’t immediately Google someone they start dating?), but she gets her first hint when a stewardess leads them to their ultra-first-class suite on their globe-spanning flight.
Soon, Nick has to come clean: he’s from one of THE richest families in all of Singapore, thanks to his parents’ real-estate dealings. But he assures Rachel has nothing to worry about and everyone’s going to love her.
It wouldn’t make for much of a movie if that were the case, though, now would it? It turns out that there’s more than one woman who disapproves of Rachel: his ex Mandy (Jing Lusi), and his overbearing, powerful mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh, who’s fantastic). Thankfully, Rachel’s drop-dead hilarious college roommate Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina) is also in Singapore to provide a confidence boost — and a shoulder to cry on. Awkwafina, who was in Ocean’s 8 earlier this year, is poised to become the movie’s breakout star after stealing every scene she’s in. And that includes the screentime she shares with another notorious scene-stealer, Ken Jeong (The Hangover franchise), who plays her father.
I was worried that Crazy Rich Asians was going to be too over the top on the “Crazy Rich” front, because I have been to Singapore and was both intrigued and concerned by what I perceived to be an obsession with material wealth and “consumer culture.” However, while the backdrops to the action might indeed be elaborate mansions, a $40-million-dollar wedding, bachelor and bachelorette festivities on exclusive private islands and a blowout party atop one of the most jaw-droppingly cool skyscrapers in the world, the story always stays grounded in Nick and Rachel’s sweet, modern romance. I never felt like I couldn’t relate to what was happening on the screen, because director John M. Chu and screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim kept the focus on universal human emotions like jealousy, doubt, and (of course) love.
I had almost given up on romantic comedies. Crazy Rich Asians just reminded Hollywood how wonderful the genre can be. Go see this movie! It soars.