As a romantic-comedy, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is big, indulgent, and excessive in every form and fashion. It’s unabashedly unrealistic and even, at times, formulaic. But all of this excess, extravagance, and splendor is exactly what the story and the script calls for. It’s unbridled and over-the-top and all of this is done with so much confidence and flair that it hits all the right emotional notes it needs to hit for an ending that, while unsurprising, hits its mark and ends with this powerful, satisfying feeling that comes with the genre.
‘Crazy Rich Asians’ follows the story of Rachel, an economics professor at New York University, who is invited by her boyfriend, Nick Young, to the wedding of his best friend in his home city of Singapore. What Rachel doesn’t know is that Nick is the son and heir apparent to one of the oldest and richest families in Singapore. He has never told her and she is taken for a journey into the snobbery and racism of the Asian rich as she is considered a “commoner” from America.
The role-reversal of an Asian American suffering from racism and snobbery in a purely Asian city pervades the tone and atmosphere of the story. She’s meant to feel like she’s not good enough for her Prince Harry-esque boyfriend, most especially by his mother, Eleanor.
‘Crazy Rich Asians’ imbibes its genre completely and succeeds by being completely dedicated to its almost-absurd depiction of what it means to be ‘crazy,’ ‘rich,’ and ‘Asian.’ It is unafraid to play with stereotypes for some characters and then break them with others. The jokes are plenty, mining every aspect of the narrative from exaggerated opulence, to caricatures of Asian stereotypes, witty lines, and the situational aspect of Rachel being completely out of her element in this crazy-rich world.
The film does have its weaknesses, though. It’s not as perfect as I’d like it to be. The film still takes on an Asian-American perspective. The adversary, here, is the true Asian and their stance against Rachel. I would’ve wished for an ending that compromises, somehow, and finds a middle ground between the two cultures rather than an "us versus them" dynamic. There were some subplots that would have been more impactful for the film in its entirety had it delved into it more, like that of Astrid, Nick’s cousin, whose story contrasts with Rachel and Nick’s arc.
But the biggest weakness was Henry Golding as Nick Young. Much has been said about his casting: that he looked the part and he has the accent and the real-life experience to bring the character to life. But as his first acting job (Golding is a television host prior to this role), his inexperience was evident. It’s a deceptive role. It looks like all Golding had to be was rich and beautiful and caring but that takes a lot of acting to make that character shine in a campy, over-the-top romantic comedy. He had to be perfect and that requires performance, flair, attitude, and the naturalistic approach that he took just wasn’t enough.
Especially when the whole cast was working magic in every scene. Constance Wu is perfect as Rachel, shifting from the comic scenes to the dramatic moments. She carried this movie, allowing herself to be overwhelmed by all the craziness without being swallowed by it so when her character needs to break through and find her strength, it never feels false. Amazing performances as well by Gemma Chan as Astrid, Awkwafina as Peik Lin (Rachel’s friend who is from Singapore), and Nico Santos as Oliver, a token gay character but fits completely within the parameters of the film and its narrative.
But, of course, all eyes are on Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor, who commands a scene with the slightest of movements and looks. Yeoh is a powerful screen presence and she grounds the film with an antagonist you cannot hate because her complexity shines through.
I was coming into the film expecting to not like it. I was resisting it because I thought it would go for the easy jokes, which it does at times, but it has a huge range of comedy that I wasn’t expecting. I was also finding the depiction of rich people as cartoon-ish and one-dimensional, until I realised that was the point. It wasn’t meant to be a realistic portrayal. Anyhow, we have Nick, Astrid, and Oliver to represent the other side of rich Asians.
I was expecting to not enjoy this film but it hit me. It takes its romantic-comedy genre and runs away with it and has a whole lot of fun, bringing the audience along with it so when it’s inevitable ending plays out, I found myself shaken in my seat. Maybe I got teary-eyed, I’ll admit it. I was charmed. It was excessive and over-the-top, and it was glorious.