As the first predominately Asian film Hollywood has produced since The Joy Luck Club twenty-five years ago, Crazy Rich Asians has many eyes on it for many reasons, and it has the unenviable task of being everything to everybody. Adapted by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim from Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel and directed by John M. Chu, Crazy Rich Asians is the sweetest movie with the nicest intentions that ever told the “satisfy everyone” crowd to go f*ck itself. Crazy Rich Asians is not all things to all people, it cannot possibly be, as no single film ever could be. But it is a resplendent, splendid celebration of romance and glamour and family drama as ever has been committed to screen. If you’re into The Princess Diaries and Dynasty, if you love fashion and fairy tales, then Crazy Rich Asians is for you.
The story begins with the sickeningly cute and outrageously handsome couple Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Nick Young (Henry Golding). Rachel is a Chinese-American economics professor who uses poker to teach game theory, and Nick Young is a Chinese-Singaporean historian who steals desserts. Thanks to Fresh Off the Boat, Wu is a known entity and she is charming and winsome as a romantic heroine. Golding, however, is a relative unknown, a television presenter in Singapore making his feature film debut. He blazes on the screen, the optimal combination of handsome and suave, and if the world was fair he would be—SHOULD BE—an instant entrant into the Next James Bond sweepstakes. Together, Wu and Golding have good chemistry and you instantly root for them as a couple.
Which you must, because no one else is. A trip to Singapore for a friend’s wedding reveals that Nick is the scion of an incredibly wealthy old-money family, and Rachel is entering the viper’s pit by being with him. Most formidably, she must deal with Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), Nick’s mother, but there is also a cadre of gossips and frenemies to be reckoned with. But Rachel has her supporters, including Nick’s uber-sophisticated cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan, simply breathtaking every moment she is on screen), and college friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina) and her outré new money family, the source of most of the film’s humor. (Ken Jeong gets in a good jab at his breakout-but-grossly-stereotypical Hangover character.)
Crazy smooths the edges from the book, mostly in the interest of time-saving, which means some plots get trimmed. Most notably Astrid’s subplot of her troubled marriage with Michael Teo (Pierre Png) gets drastically reshaped into an empowerment narrative. Chan makes the most of what she gets, and Astrid is intriguing enough to want to see more of her story, but the parallel between Astrid’s struggle and Nick and Rachel’s gets a little lost. There is a connection as both Astrid and Nick chose “outsiders” as partners, but Crazy isn’t as interested in delving into the class distinction between Astrid and Michael as it is the cultural divide between Rachel and Nick, and, by extension, Eleanor. The class stuff is there it just isn’t as fleshed out as it could be, especially as Chu puts his history of dance and music movies to use, lavishly photographing palatial estates and the luxury getaways of the superrich. There are plenty of beauty shots of couture, jewelry, and cars, and while it is a bit odd to celebrate conspicuous consumption and revel in the world of the uber-rich in a time when the global wealth gap is greater than ever primarily thanks to those families that have hoarded wealth for generations, Crazy Rich Asians is specifically about tuning out that noise and just enjoying the spectacle. (The world is on fire, enjoy this glass of champagne.)
Kevin Kwan and the producers of Crazy turned down Netflix in order to give their movie a global theatrical launch, and while the movie is wonderful there is a part of me that wishes it was a ten-hour miniseries. The characters are SO wonderful and fun and, well, crazy that my biggest complaint is not having enough time with them. This is a classic romantic comedy, complete with outfit montage, show-stopping arrival to the big dance/party, and a frantic run through the airport, or airplane, as the case may be. What Crazy Rich Asians sacrifices in drama, it more than makes up for in romantic fizz. And there is still a pleasingly tense and rife-with-subtext showdown between Rachel and Eleanor, so not ALL of the drama is gone. Not every page of a novel is going to make it into a two-hour movie, and Crazy Rich Asians chooses to focus on the fun and the romance, and as a result it is a very fun romantic movie. Not all things to all people, but if you’ve missed rom-coms, it’s a total delight.