More noise than signal

Crazy Rich Asians

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Other than vague stories of its success Stateside, I didn’t have much of a frame of reference for Crazy Rich Asians, but I think I’d been anticipating that “Crazy” and “Rich” were entirely separate adjectives. But, for most of the people we’re going to meet in this romcom, they’re “Crazy Rich”, as in the “Eat the Rich” sort of way. Not that I’m suggesting we resort to cannibalism. Not yet, anyway. This intro is getting away from me. From the top.

Constance Wu’s New York-based Professor of Economics Rachel Chu deals with more than she bargains for when her boyfriend, Henry Golding’s Nick Young asks her to go back to Singapore with him for his best friends’ wedding. As part of this she’ll need to meet Nick’s family and friends, who, unbeknownst to Rachel, are the superwealthy, quote-unquote elite of Pan-asia.

Apparently lying about his background for a couple of years is just a hurdle we need to get over for a film to occur, so Rachel goes with Nick’s explanation of not wanting preconceived notions and expectations of the wealthy to get in the way of their relationship. Sure. Seems legit. As it happens, it’s pretty much accurate, as with only a few exceptions such as Nick’s best friend, Chris Pang’s Colin Khoo and fiancee Sonoya Mizun’s Araminta Lee, they are a hostile shower of stuck up brats who will be first against the wall when the revolution comes and this is getting away from me again. Nurse!

In particular, Nick’s icicle-based mother, Michelle Yeoh’s Eleanor Sung-Young refuses to warm to Rachel, and before long starts playing the duty-to-your-family, take-over-the-family-business cards, while Rachel struggles to fit in amongst the quote-unquote high society set she now finds herself in. She’s helped by old college room-mate, Awkwafina’s Goh Peik Lin, who’s family is merely very, very rich, and needlessly weird for comic relief and pacing reasons, rather than the super, hyper rich douchnozzles the rest of the film features.

Look, apparently I’m still much too Occupy Wall Street to give this a fair recap, so allow me to shortcut this by saying its the exact same fish out of water, remain true to yourself story arc that’s been seen a million times before, but transplanted to a novel setting. Replace the Asian super-rich with the American super-rich, or the British Aristocracy, and I’m sure this all starts to sound awfully familiar.

Just as I can’t discount the very real positives of cultural representation this has had amongst the Asian-American community (and Asian-British, and Asian-Any Other Culture, I assume), just as Black Panther had amongst the African-American community, but it’s at best a coat of paint over a well-worn formula, and really the only culture this is reflecting is that of wanton excess. I’m far too far to the left to condone that sort of thing. Aspirational? Well, I agree with the first syllable.

My politics aside, which to be honest I’m only giving reign because I don’t find much else interesting in Crazy Rich Asians, it’s an entirely adequately put together film. Jon M. Chu’s direction is workmanlike, but with locations this fabulous it’s hard not to make something that looks great, and the cast are, to be honest, much better than the script deserves.

Constance Wu and the always reliable Michelle Yeoh carry the central struggle well, and the satellite characters and storylines are all as obnoxious or sympathetic as is demanded, if not fleshed out well enough for my liking. Gemma Chan’s Astrid Leong-Teo in particular is lumbered with a totally angelic Mary Sue of a character apparently as some sort of counterweight to the general “the rich are awful” vibe that goes way too far in the other direction and it’s to Chan’s great credit that the character feels at least somewhat real. Much as in Ocean’s 8, Awkwafina steals any scene she’s in, and even Ken Jeong is less annoying than usual.

Overall this review is much more negative than were my thoughts when leaving the cinema. I don’t think this film stands up to analysis very well, but as a formulaic rom-com, it’s perfectly fine. The central relationships are charming enough, at least the setting is unfamiliar if the story isn’t, and there’s enough funny moments to keep it ticking along. It is fine. I’m glad people get enjoyment from it, and assuming the jaw-dropping Wikipedia factoid about it being the first film by a major Hollywood studio to feature a majority Asian-American cast in a modern setting since The Joy Luck Club in 1993 is correct, it’s churlish to complain at all. Yet, still I do.