I begrudgingly admit, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is a pretty good rom-com
The new movie “Crazy Rich Asians” is in danger of being overpraised.
Hollywood’s last all-Asian/Asian-American production was a full 25 years ago — “The Joy Luck Club” — makes the very existence of “Crazy Rich Asians” definitely something to cheer about. But to herald this film as some kind of grand artistic achievement is condescending. All it proves is that Asians can make big splashy rom-coms every bit as silly as their white counterparts. “Crazy Rich Asians” is the very definition of a guilty pleasure.
Based on the first in a trio of international bestselling novels by author Kevin Kwan, the movie version of “Crazy Rich Asians” revels in a world most of us will never see — at least outside of the movies. Singapore is one of the wealthiest places in the world. One in every 34 Singaporeans is a millionaire. But this film can’t be bothered with mere millionaires. Its territory is the land of billionaires. As one character puts it, “these people aren’t just rich; they’re crazy rich.” Gorgeous mansions, gorgeous food, gorgeous clothes, and gorgeous people. Ostentatious displays of wealth never looked so alluring.
Into this never-never-land of fantasy wealth is suddenly plopped a nice, grounded, young Asian-American woman who’s been raised by a hard-working single mom. She has become a professor of economics at NYU. That’s quite a success story, but not apparently by Singaporean standards.
The trouble starts when this woman, Rachel Chu played by actress Constance Wu, gets invited “home” to Singapore by her boyfriend, Nick Young.
“We’ve been dating for over a year now and I think it’s about time people met my beautiful girlfriend,” Nick says to Rachel. “What about us taking a little adventure east?”
“Like Queens?” Rachel replies.
“Singapore. For Colin’s wedding. Don’t you want to meet my family?” Nick says.
Rachel supposedly has no idea her boyfriend is rich until she gets on the plane to Singapore and discovers they’re not only flying first class, they have a bedroom suite on the plane! And that’s nothing compared to the surprises in store for her when she lands and discovers that Nick’s family lives like the Great Gatsby.
But are we really supposed to believe that Nick has dated an NYU economics professor for over a year and he’s never once mentioned he’s richer than Midas? That may not be grounds for a break-up, but it certainly would seem to merit more discussion than a flippant one-liner like this:
“You really should have told me that you were like the Prince William of Asia,” Rachel argues.
“That’s ridiculous,” Nick smirks. “I’m much more of a Harry.”
More troubling, Nick never tells Rachel the family expects him to return to Singapore to run the family’s extensive business interests. Nor does he tip her off that his very conservative mother and grandmother have their knives out for any romantic interlopers like herself.
And when rival wanna-be girlfriends leave a slaughtered fish on her bed with a warning scrawled on the walls — “Catch this, you gold-digging bitch!” — Nick’s only response to a clearly upset Rachel is “Don’t let them get to you.” If Nick is a catch, Rachel ought to seriously consider throwing him back.
But of course she doesn’t. This is, after all, a romantic comedy. And I begrudgingly admit, a pretty good one. How do I know? Because against my better judgment and despite my reservations, I still found myself rooting for the two lovebirds to reconcile at the end.
The key to this “guilty pleasure” is the casting. Veteran actress Michelle Yeoh is a formidable presence as the disapproving mother and Henry Golding is an appropriately hunky and earnestly bland Nick.
But it’s Constance Wu, as Rachel, who makes this movie worth watching. The star of the TV sitcom “Fresh off the Boat,” Wu is both pretty enough to hold her own among the jetsetters and down-to-earth enough to be relatable to the rest of us. She’s funny and plucky and vulnerable and plain ol’ likable. She’s the nice, normal Asian in the midst of all the crazy rich ones. And that turns out to be the right formula for this romantic comedy.