Film Review: Overly Obsessed with Wealth, “Crazy Rich Asians” Still Delivers Some Rom-Com Goods

Film poster: “Crazy Rich Asians”

Crazy Rich Asians (Jon M. Chu, 2018) 2½ out of 4 stars.

Let’s start with the good: Crazy Rich Asians, from director Jon M. Chu (Jem and the Holograms), features an appealing, almost exclusively Asian cast, in a diverting rom-com confection produced with equal parts pep and pizzazz. Featuring Constance Wu (Jessica Huang on ABC’s Fresh off the Boat) and Henry Golding (making his film debut) as attractive, star-crossed (or are they?) lovers, whose different backgrounds pose enormous obstacles to their union, the film, based on Kevin Kwan’s book of the same title, showcases the visual splendor of Singapore while telling a tale as old as time (or, at the very least, one that seems to never get old). Will they or won’t they (as if we didn’t know)? If one likes the genre, then it’s a sure-fire hit.

And then there is the bad (for this reviewer, anyway): do we really need, in 2018, a story that celebrates massive wealth in this way, especially in a country as repressive as Singapore? Though Golding’s Nick Young be a nice guy, he’s a scion of an old-money family that takes its power and status very much for granted. True, we see in a prologue how the Youngs’ affluence has not always protected them from the racism of the white world, but in their own universe (and even beyond), they are as dominant as any tycoons, anywhere, and hyper-aware of class and breeding. Yes, Wu’s Rachel Chu is just a middle-class college professor, child of a single mom and initially wary of the treasures on display, but the film, itself, cannot resist the easy temptations of abundance, and becomes, by the end, a near-orgiastic embrace of mansions and resorts.

Constance Wu and Henry Golding in “Crazy Rich Asians” ©Warner Bros.

Everyone and everything is pretty, so why not? What’s wrong with a modern-day Jane Austen narrative? I will admit to loving novels like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, in which propertied men save women in need. I suppose I am just more accepting of such stories when set in a time before our own, as I harbor a naïve hope that we humans might evolve beyond an adoration of excessive prosperity and overconsumption. Something grates about our continued obsession with the well-to-do, especially if their fortune is inherited.

That said, the movie is otherwise a lot of fun, thanks to terrific actors and fine comedic writing. Michelle Yeoh (The Lady) is perfect as Nick’s icy, disapproving mom, while rapper Awkwafina (Ocean’s 8), as Peik Lin, Rachel’s over-the-top college friend, and Ken Jeong (Advantageous), as Peik Lin’s even nuttier father, provide some extraordinarily delightful comedy (and they are not the only ones). Even though we can be confident that the preordained ending will most likely occur, getting there is still a lot of fun. After all, as Ernest Hemingway is purported to have said, when F. Scott Fitzgerald commented that the “rich are different from you and me”: “Yes. They’ve got more money.” Words to live by.

Awkwafina and Constance Wu in “Crazy Rich Asians” ©Warner Bros.

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. He is the lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a regular film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; an occasional writer for the magazine bmoreart.com; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, starting in January, 2018, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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