Crazy Rich Asians is a glamorous confection of a romcom. It’s basically the film equivalent of a chilled, bubbly glass of champagne on a steamy August night: a refreshing, classy party starter. It’s the kind of lush ensemble romantic comedy that the Sex and the City films wished they could be. CRA has a delightful, warm familiarity to it, and along with its all-Asian and Asian-American cast – all of whom deserve to be massive worldwide stars – it will hopefully be a guiding light towards the romcoms of the future.
Director Jon. M Chu (known primarily for his visual direction of Justin Bieber’s career and a handful of Step Up sequels) breezes confidently into this story. The screenplay by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim takes Kevin Kwan’s wildly popular novel and quickens the pace so it always feels sparkly and never drags.
The story centers around the obscenely wealthy Young family, and their de-facto prince Nick Young (Henry Golding). Nick’s decamped from his family’s compound in Singapore to study and become a professor in New York City. In that time away from his family, he’s fallen in love with Chinese born-American raised econ professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu). The whole thrust of the film is Nick taking Rachel to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. What Nick has failed to tell Rachel is that not only is this wedding THE society wedding of Singapore, but that his family and their fame and wealth overshadow any bride at even the splashiest wedding.
What the book draws out over a planned ten week trip for Rachel and Nick to visit Singapore (with the wedding and a meet-the-family being one part of their trip), this film smartly turns into a quick spring break trip and puts the wedding at the forefront of their destination. This condensing of time allows a bit of the focus to be on a excellent tourist ad for Singapore (with a brief montage of street food delights), but mostly it allows a thrilling cast of mainly judgmental/critical characters in Nick’s wealthy, overseas orbit to circle Rachel.
Rachel’s most formidable foe seems to be in Nick’s mother Eleanor (played with icy serenity by Michelle Yeoh), herself once a family outsider who worked her way to the head of the large extended family and makes her reign look flawless (except when put down subtly her own mother).
The script is written in a way that at times can feel a bit formulaic: Rachel’s rise from derided commoner to self possessed sophisticate, but there are still moments of delightful surprise. Most of which comes from the comedic skills of supporting characters like Rachel’s college pal Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina, who has the standout force of a Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids) and one of Nick’s snarky cousins Oliver (Nico Santos, who can spear with just a line or withering glance) who help Rachel navigate this new, high flying world by giving her a makeover (a squeal-worthy moment of fashion akin to Pretty Woman) and boosting her self worth.
There’s also a delightful surprise and depth brought to the film by Gemma Chan, who plays Nick’s cousin Astrid. While providing a shoulder to Rachel, Astrid also deals with a shaky marriage crumbling under the expectation placed on her seeming perfection. While Chan is show-stoppingly stunning, she’s also a captivating actress who makes some of the few serious moments in the film feel as full of life as the easier, funnier moments. While Chan has had her breakout moments of beautiful in action films like Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Transformers: The Last Night, hopefully Crazy Rich Asians will catapult her into leading lady status. She’s certainly becoming one to watch between the one two punch of her roles in CRA and the upcoming Captain Marvel.
The only real downside to this film is how little Nick and Rachel actually get to shine and show their own acting chops. Wu is a warm and sympathetic presence, but any viewers who want to see the same sharp comedic moments she exhibits in the TV show Fresh of the Boat will be disappointed. Henry Golding as Nick is certainly a stunning snack to behold, but he gets little agency or personal flaws in the film. He’s the perfect dreamboat boyfriend but also is the weakest acting link in the film.
But it’s not surprising that the leading man falls short of being interesting, because one of the most refreshing points of the film is that in this world where the men make the wealth, most of the men are either idiots spending their family’s money or off-screen entirely. There’s something delightful about living in this world of female power. Let’s not only get more stellar ensemble romcoms, but ones with primarily minority casting where the women unquestioningly rule the roost. Why don’t we start by fast-tracking a sequel to Crazy Rich Asians stat? Lucky for us, there are two more books in the series.