Netflix has quietly been reviving the rom-com: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Kissing Booth, and Set It Up have all drawn in big numbers for the streaming service, and to be honest, for us Assholes too, even though I didn’t like any of those movies, and was actively offended by at least one of them. Netflix was smart enough to offer a very lucrative deal to the team behind Crazy Rich Asians, but that team knew that if they were successful, they could make not just a film, but an event, a landmark, even. It’s been 25 years since we had an all Asian or Asian-American cast (with The Joy Luck Club), which is a number as astonishing as it is embarrassing. But with this summer’s indie successes for Blindspotting, Sorry To Bother You, and BlacKkKlansman, (and heck, I’d even put Eighth Grade on that list) audiences are proving that diverse casting and story-telling is more than welcome in theatres.
I read Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan some time ago and kind of loved it. It’s one of those fluffy, easy reads that was somehow elevated by the specific characters and setting. It opened the door to a hidden part of Asian culture and it made the reader feel part of the secret. So while I try my best to support diverse stories with my dollars, Crazy Rich Asians had already hooked me with its story. Could the film live up to the book?
In a word, yes. Of course, it diverges from the book in some pretty big ways, but I think the spirit is definitely there.
It’s about Rachel (Constance Wu), a Chinese-American who flies to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to meet his family for the first time. Nick fails to prepare her for his family’s immense wealth, or for their insular, reclusive, snobbish lifestyle. Their rejection of her is immediate and definite. His mother (Michelle Yeoh) and aunts are downright cold, and the other young women (who perhaps fancied themselves in the running for his hand, and his inheritance) are wickedly cruel. Still, Rachel persists, determined to put on a brave face as she navigates the lavish “wedding of the century” featuring Nick’s best friend Colin as the groom and the beautiful Araminta as the stunning, head-turning bride. Rachel’s only ally is her college friend and roommate Peik Lin (Awkwafina) whose own fortune is dwarfed by the deep pockets of old money in Nick’s family.
Director Jon M. Chu has only two hours to communicate the impressive opulence that the book devotes chapter upon chapter to, and while he could never quite achieve the great wall of wealth presented in the book, he works hard visually to transplant the luxuriance and splendor directly into our brains. And of course the scene that works best for this is the wedding – a wedding that cost the bride’s parents more than Donald Trump could piss away in a lifetime. Tens of millions. It’s seriously impressive.
And so is the large ensemble cast – though because of their numbers and the obvious time crunch, we don’t get to know nearly as many of them even half as well as we do in the book. This is very much the story of Rachel and Nick, and everyone else takes a backseat. Although Rachel’s best friend, and curiously, that friend’s dad take up a fair bit more screen time than the novel would suggest. That’s because Chu has the delightful Awkwafina and zany Ken Jeong adding their signature spice to the mix, and Nico Santos as well, which means Crazy Rich Asians isn’t just romance and jaw-dropping locations – this shit is funny.
And it’s a lot of fun to watch, highly entertaining and enormously enjoyable. At times it veers almost into the fantastical, but it’s definitely the kind of movie that sweeps you away, from over-the-top sets and locations to the recognizable pop songs with an Asian twist. Even Sean, who probably likes your typical rom-com even less than I do, chuckled throughout and declared it a good deal of fun – and for once I could repay the favour by keeping him back for a mid-credits scene. The movie is, almost by definition I suppose, more formulaic than the book, but the familiarity is broken by the eye-popping setting and fresh cultural references. And if you love it, and I bet you will, that mid-credits scene hints at a possible sequel…in fact, the books make up a trilogy. Isn’t that just the best news you’ve heard all day? Get thee to a theatre for a Crazy Good Movie today.