‘Crazy Rich Asians’: A romcom at its best when pitching Wu
The frothy rom com 'Crazy Rich Asians' sometimes feels like mostly foam, but it's helped by strong performances from stars Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh.
Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy and a fairy tale, and it helps to keep the latter in mind as you ramp up suspension of disbelief to necessary levels.
You must overlook, for example, that brainy Columbia University economics professor Rachel (Constance Wu) has somehow failed to deduce that handsome boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding), born and raised in the world financial capitol Singapore, speaking with a posh Oxford-educated accent, is rich.
Even when she boards an airliner to accompany him back to Singapore for his best friend's wedding, and is taken up a spiral staircase to a private first-class cabin with its own bedroom, she buys his assertion that it's all just some kind of residual frequent-flier perk vaguely related to his family business.
Well, love is blind. That's a bedrock element here. The story requires that Rachel be soul-mate smitten, and that Nick is charmed and reassured by her American cluelessness – he's looking for a woman who loves him for who he truly is.
Rachel's hosts in Singapore (Ken Jeong, Ocean's 8′s Awkwafina) break the news that Nick is one of the richest men is Asia. Rachel is shocked, they are shocked she did not know, and warn of more shocks in store.
She'll be scrutinized by Singaporean society (Nico Santos, as a hip local, provides running commentary), set upon by jealous rivals (Jing Lusi is Nick's conniving ex), and will likely face ferocious opposition from Nick's protective mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh).
The Young family, we learn, arrived in Singapore from China, built a fortune while retaining Chinese values that place family and tradition first. Eleanor takes Rachel for a shallow, me-first American and acts to undermine the romance, though Rachel does get helpful advice from Nick's cousin (Gemma Chan).
All of this plays out against the backdrop of lavish bachelor and bachelorette parties. Best man Nick and the groom (Harry Shum Jr.) are air-dropped on a barge floating in international waters, for an anything-goes bacchanal thrown by party animal Jimmy O. Yang. Rachel ends up at a luxury hotel where the women are encouraged to shop.
The wealth gawking here makes Nancy Meyers look like Ken Loach, and even though characters like Nick profess to be put off by outrageous extravagance, the camera peruses fashions and furnishings with a POV that can fairly be described as first-person shopper (the mention-them-by-name brands have not changed since Sex and the City).
The movie gets better when it returns to cultural traditions of family. Rachel sits down with the Young family for a ritual of making dumplings, a gathering that turns into a socially coded square-off between Rachel and Eleanor. The way their relationship plays out is more interesting and rewarding than the surface romance between Rachel and Nick. It benefits from the efforts of Wu, the star of TV's Fresh Off the Boat, who looks comfortable and versatile on the big screen as a leading lady.
As for Yeoh, she does with an eyebrow in Crazy Rich Asians what she did in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with a sword. By the way, that movie made $128 million in the U.S., in Mandarin, so I'm not sure Crazy Rich Asians has something new to prove about the financial prospect of movies with Asian casts.
Crazy Rich Asians. Directed by Jon M. Chu. With Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Akwafina, Ken Jeong and Gemma Chan. Distributed by Warner Bros.
Running time: 121 minutes
Parents guide: PG-13
Playing at: area theaters