It is quite admirable to see a film like Crazy Rich Asians being greenlit so that Asian-American audiences can see themselves reflected in a positive manner. I know in 2018, it shouldn’t seem like a big deal. But even though it is 2018, the tired practice of Caucasian actors playing whitewashed Asian roles is still being practiced. So, to have a film with a cast solely made up of Asian actors is quite a big deal. Crazy Rich Asians is a key cultural touchstone and also, a great movie. It is a fun movie going experience that manages to have a rather subtle emotional center.
Based on the novel by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians follows the story of an economics professor named Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) who travels to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) for his friend’s wedding . But what Rachel realizes is that Nick comes from an insanely wealthy family and she’s forced to fight off the jealousy of rich socialites vying for Nick’s attention. She must also contend with Nick’s overbearing mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) who disapproves of their relationship because Rachel isn’t wealthy and doesn’t seem to value the culture that Eleanor cherishes.
The character of Rachel has so much to navigate but she manages to juggle her conflicts with ease thanks to the efforts of the actress portraying her. Constance Wu manages to make Rachel a refreshing face in the romantic comedy genre by making her a figure of dignity, charisma, and self-analysis. The series Fresh Off The Boat may have been her true breakthrough but Crazy Rich Asians feels like a “star is born” moment for her.
She also has intoxicating romantic chemistry with Henry Golding. Although, while Golding emerges a breakout star, it’s mainly Constance Wu’s show and the supporting female cast owns the spotlight as well. For starters, Michelle Yeoh reminds us why she’s an underrated acting presence, demonstrating Eleanor’s staunch traditionalism and hostility without portraying her as an antagonist; Gemma Chan brilliantly plays Nick’s cousin Astrid, a wealthy socialite who possesses a more grounded worldview once she finds out about her husband’s infidelity; Jing Lusi owns her few scenes as Nick’s spiteful ex-girlfriend Amanda; And despite not having as much to do, Sonoya Mizuno is a sunny presence as Araminta, the bride of the wedding.
But last and certainly not least is an actress who had my attention literally every time she was on screen and that is Awkwafina. As Rachel’s college friend Peik Lin, Awkwafina acts as a major source of comic relief with practically every line reading. She was a standout in Neighbors 2 a couple years ago, a standout in Ocean’s 8 earlier this year and is a standout here as well. Here’s hoping that the future continues to be bright for this incoming talent.
Some of the supporting men like Ken Jeong and Nico Santos provide slight comic relief as well. But truth be told, it’s really the actresses who run the show. They serve as the film’s beating heart along with the screenwriters Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli. Their script provides traditional rom-com beats while also breaking ground by pertaining the genre to an often underrepresented culture. Also, the conflict between Rachel and Eleanor manages to serve as a manifestation for the difference between Asian and Asian-American culture. Eleanor’s hostility stems from Rachel valuing the pursuit of happiness which is a part of the American dream. On the contrary, Eleanor has made it her goal to pursue wealth and privilege rather than happiness in order for her to feel more content.
The differentiation between Rachel and the world of wealth she steps into is also demonstrated by the costume and production design by Mary E. Vogt and Nelson Coates, respectively. The dresses the women wear and the lavish parties being thrown and whatnot make this world of wealth literally feel like its own world.
In closing, Crazy Rich Asians is a successful culture clash rom-com carried by a three-dimensional star turn from Constance Wu. It is heartfelt, humorous, and amazingly well-acted thanks in large to the efforts of its female cast. It’s easily one of the best movies of the summer.