In between appointments today, I slipped away to catch an early showing of a film I’ve been wanting to see. Perhaps because the matinee was just after lunch, or maybe because the movie has been out for a couple of weeks, I had the large theater auditorium to myself. As the lights dimmed the experience felt like a private showing. This is a movie review of Crazy Rich Asians.
Crazy Rich Asians stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Jemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang and Pierre Png. This romantic comedy, directed by Jon M. Chu, is based upon the novel by the same name, written by Kevin Kwan. The film carries a PG-13 rating, for adult themes and mild language, and has a run time of 2 hours.
Rachel Chu (Wu), an economics professor in NYC, travels east with her boyfriend of one year, Nick Young (Golding). Nick’s best friend Colin (Pang) is marrying his sweetheart, Araminta (Mizuno) and Nick is the best man. When Rachel hears “out east” she pictures Queens. In reality, east is Singapore.
Rachel’s first clue that there are things she does not know about her boyfriend comes when the pair is seated in a luxurious first class suite aboard the airplane. During the flight she discovers that Nick’s family is wealthier than she imagined.
After arriving in Singapore, Nick and Rachel are met by the soon to be married couple. They enjoy an evening together exploring the city, dining on exquisite street vendor food, and chatting.
The next day Rachel plans to meet Nick at his grandmother’s house for a family dinner. She spends the day visiting with a former college roommate, Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina), and her eccentric family. During lunch she mentions her boyfriend’s name, shocking her friend. Thereafter, Rachel finds out that Nick’s family is one of the wealthiest in Singapore with vast business and real estate holdings.
Nervous about meeting the Young family, Rachel allows Peik Lin to loan her a formal gown to wear to the dinner and to chauffeur her to the grand estate. There she meets Nick’s sad but beautiful cousin Astrid (Chan) and her husband Michael (Png), his disapproving mother Eleanor (Yeoh) and the matriarch of the family, Nick’s grandmother Ah Ma (Lu).
Eleanor immediately dislikes Rachel and makes her feelings known. She frowns upon Rachel’s American birth and the single mom who raised her. Eleanor intends for her son to take over the family businesses and to marry a woman more suited to the traditional Chinese way of life. Consequently, she views Rachel as being too ambitious and ridicules her for chasing after her passion, which is to teach economics to college students.
Far from home and a familiar life, Rachel is surrounded by jealous young women who had hoped to catch Singapore’s most eligible bachelor, suspicious members of the Young family, and a culture that differs greatly from her own. Is her love for Nick, and his for her, strong enough to survive such overwhelming challenges?
My Thoughts About the Movie
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The story is very much a Cinderella one, with such a reference made during an extravagant ball-like party. The “evil” family members, however, are all on the boyfriend’s side. The characters are more complex than just being good or evil. Eleanor’s backstory reveals why she reacts so strongly to her son’s girlfriend.
The visual impact of the movie is one of opulence, with brilliant cinematography accompanied by a lively musical score. There is a classical feel to the film, reminiscent of the movies I grew up watching as a child.
And while the story of poor girl meets rich boy is familiar, there is freshness throughout the film with beautiful Singapore providing a textured backdrop and cultural interest. Chinese Americans differ from those in Singapore, giving me the impression that the former don’t quite fit in anywhere.
Awkwafina was a joy to watch as Rachel’s friend. She provides a great deal of the humor in the film. Constance carries the role of Rachel well, in a deliberately understated way. And Michelle Yeoh, who plays Eleanor, is why I wanted to see this movie. I am familiar with her as a regular on Star Trek Discovery. She offers a powerful performance as a woman who honors tradition and wants the best for her son, and also fears losing him.
At its heart, this charming film is about relationships of all kinds…friendship, romance and family connections. As is true for most of us, it is the family relationships that most define us and challenge us. There is love amongst family, and heartbreak as well, and often sacrifice. Crazy Rich Asians offers thoughtful insights into all three.