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‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Might be This Decade’s ‘Sleepless in Seattle’

August 16, 2018

If one chooses to believe the audible gasps, cheers, and puffy eyes of those leaving the screening I attended, Warner Bros. has a box office hit on its hands with Crazy Rich Asians.

Constance Wu as Rachel and Henry Golding as Nick in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and SK Global Entertainment’s and Starlight Culture’s contemporary romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Sanja Bucko © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND KIMMEL DISTRIBUTION, LLC)

Rachel (Constance Wu) is a young, accomplished economics professor in New York City who has fallen head over heels for the dashing and seemingly not insanely wealthy, Nick (Henry Golding). Turns out, only one of those things is true, as Nick is a member of the wealthiest family in Singapore – a fact she’s only made aware of once they depart to attend his best friend’s wedding.

 

This trip marks Rachel’s first meeting with most of Nick’s family, including his judgmental and overprotective mother, Elinor (Michelle Yeoh); grandmother, Ah Ma (Lisa Lu); and a gaggle of cousins, aunts, and other rich family friends that are much more flamboyant with their status than Nick is.

 

On top of the familial scrutiny, Rachel finds herself in the crosshairs of jealous would-be bachelorettes, hounded by the media and paparazzi, and struggling (as a Chinese American woman) to fit into Chinese traditions.

 

Add it all up, and you’ve got a strained relationship. Can it survive, or are the outside factors too great to overcome?

Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor, Henry Golding as Nick and Constance Wu as Rachel in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and SK Global Entertainment’s and Starlight Culture’s contemporary romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Sanja Bucko © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND KIMMEL DISTRIBUTION, LLC)

While CRA doesn’t necessarily cannonball into the deep end of the rom-com pool, at the very least it’s dipping a toe or some other appendage into it.

 

At various times you get strong hints of “Pretty in Pink,” and a hooker-less “Pretty Woman,” and if you pay close enough attention, you might even catch a hint of “It Happened One Night,” or “Say Anything.” That’s because those universal themes of “wrong side of the tracks,” “you’re not good enough for my son/daughter/friend,” and sacrificing love for love’s sake are tried and tested.

 

But while CRA flirts with those classic rom-com themes and feels very classical in that regard, it also manages to feel contemporary and fresh. And I really don’t know how they managed it – you knew from the onset of Point A that you were ending (presumably happily) at Point B, but there was enough new wrinkles (likely the Asian culture that you get a peek at) to not know exactly how you were going to get there.

 

Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor, Gemma Chan as Astrid, Lisa Lu as Ah Ma, Henry Golding as Nick and Constance Wu as Rachel in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and SK Global Entertainment’s and Starlight Culture’s contemporary romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND KIMMEL DISTRIBUTION, LLC)​

In case you haven’t already heard, the entire cast of CRA is Asian. I’m not going to speak on the importance of inclusivity, because it’s not my place to do so, but I will say Warner Bros. made a bold move and it appears to have paid off.

 

Now, in terms of the cast, the leads (Wu, Goodwin, Yeoh) are likeable enough, but the ones that really steal the show are the ancillary characters – particularly Awkwafina as Rachel’s college friend Peik Lin; Ken Jeong as Peik Lin’s father, Wye Mun; Nico Santos and cousin Oliver; and Kheng Hua Tan as Rachel’s mother, Kerry. The first three are used almost exclusively for comic relief, and they excel, while the latter provides some levity and brings a more serious backstory to Rachel and her family.

Awkwafina as Peik Lin, Nico Santos as Oliver and Constance Wu as Rachel in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and SK Global Entertainment’s and Starlight Culture’s contemporary romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Sanja Bucko © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND KIMMEL DISTRIBUTION, LLC)

 

The other thing that truly stands out here, is the beauty of the film. Sure, some of that comes from the lavish settings these characters can afford, but more than that the locales are just stunning. I’ve never had a desire to travel to Singapore, but I might be rethinking that.

 

Generally speaking, rom-coms are often little more than fluff dressed up with pretty people doing often outlandish things in the name of love. While CRA has a little bit of that going on, it manages to limit it and has enough new(ish) wrinkles to remain interesting.

 

At the end of the day it’s not a great film, but it’s leaps and bounds beyond the drivel that’s usually churned out in the genre.

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★