The Same, But Different - Crazy Rich Asians
Fairly or not, Crazy Rich Asians comes with a mountain of expectations. It is the first feature length Hollywood production to feature a predominantly Asian-American cast since The Joy Luck Club over 25 years ago. Since then, Hollywood has had any number of missteps when it comes to the representation and portrayal of the Asian diaspora. So for some, this is the movie to make all of that right.
Casting all that pressure aside, does the movie work as an entertainment product? Yes, it does. It hits a lot of the conventional emotional beats we've come to expect from our romantic comedies, with just enough flare and good humor to justify it's existence. But ultimately it is those unfairly lofty expectations that make the film admirable. It is the fact that this is the very first time that many people will feel 'seen' sitting in a theater. Putting these faces on screen in a way that feels authentic and revelatory is an achievement in its own right. Its quality is the reason I am sure we won't be waiting another 25 years to see a film in this lane.
Rachel Chu is a young professor of economics at NYU who has been dating a man named Nick Young for about a year when he asks her to travel to Asia to meet his family. What Rachel doesn't know is that Nick's family is rich--like, jet-setting, high-rise owning, dynasty rich. The Youngs are known as one of Asia's wealthiest families, having accumulated vast real estate holdings. When Rachel agrees to go meet his family, she has no idea what she has signed up for.
The timing of Nick's trip home coincides with his best friend, Colin, getting married to Araminta, his longtime fianceé. The movie is bracketed by the various events surrounding the wedding and we get to see Nick and Rachel navigate the interpersonal dynamics of parties, bachelor and bachelorette weekends and family traditions. Rachel is forced to face accusations that she is a gold digger from Nick's old girlfriends and charges that her background is not good enough from Nick's protective mother. Through it all, Nick and Rachel fight to remember what it is they love about one another and focus on what really matters.
There is nothing here we haven't seen before, except the faces, which matters. Representation matters and seeing familiar stories told through new lenses is refreshing, even if it doesn't ultimately end up being something revolutionary. The film works in just enough authentic Asian culture to feel like more than a novelty. So while it's not quite 'crazy' as suggested by the title, it is rich and it is Asian. So much so that you really do start to wonder where these stories have been all this time. The depth created by the scenes covering Asian traditions and familial narratives has been sorely missed in its absence.
And while some of the faces are more familiar (Constance Wu stars in ABC's comedy Fresh Off The Boat and Ken Jeong stars in everything from The Hangover to Community), it is newcomer Awkwafina who steals the show. Every time she reappears, it feels like she should have been in every scene. She carries all of the movie's most hilarious notes and is the pitch perfect quirky sidekick. Without her, this would have been an even more bland affair. While there is a lot of shimmer based on the lifestyle depicted, it's hard to get too excited about most of it.
Structurally, it feels like the movie was trying to do a little too much in its two hour runtime. There were a dizzying number of characters and narratives that seemed like they were forced in because someone wasn't sure there would be another shot. The movie runs a full hour before getting to the central problem, and then tries to ultimately solve that problem in a hurried final 20 mins. You can tell a lot of people felt like there is a lot riding on this and they are not wrong, but the film would have benefitted from a more restrained take.
But even given all of its faults, the movie is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Even when the content is not new, the fact that the packaging is will matter. They are definitely aiming for the people who enjoy a Mamma Mia! level narrative here, but that's not so bad considering how far this advances Hollywood's inclusion efforts. It explores gender narratives, familial relations and Asian traditions in a way we just don't get from the usual Hollywood filler. Is it too soon to start looking forward to being let down by the sequel?
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