CRAZY RICH ASIANS: 4 STARS. “appealing characters guide the glitzy story.”
“Crazy Rich Asians,” based on the phenomenally successful books by Kevin Kwan, is a mix of “Cinderella” and a rom com with a side order of “Pride and Prejudice.”
Constance Wu plays Rachel Chu, an NYU economics professor, who dates historian Nick Young (Henry Golding). After a year of seeing one another he invites her to his best friend’s wedding and to meet his family in Singapore. She jumps at the chance because she knows nothing about them. Every time she brings up the family he changes the subject. “Maybe his parents are poor and he has to send them money,” says her mother Kerry (Kheng Hua Tan).
Turns out just the opposite is true.
When it begins to dawn on Rachel that his family is well off she asks him straight up. “We’re comfortable,” he says. “That is exactly what a super rich person would say,” she says. He is the son of unimaginably rich parents, the wealthiest people on the island. Nick is prince charming, a good-looking heir to a fortune who downplays his status. “Damn, Rachel, says Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina), “he’s like an Asian Bachelor.”
She is the Meghan to his Harry but there are problems. Catapulted into a world of opulence Rachel finds herself under scrutiny. Nick’s family doesn’t approve of her job, her background or the fact that a single mother raised her. “If Nick chooses me,” she says to his mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), “he would lose his family. And if he chooses his family, he might spend the rest of his life resenting you.”
“Crazy Rich Asians” is an effervescent concoction so fizzy it’ll make your tongue tingle. A glittery surface built around a solid chassis, it contains a bit of something for everyone, from romance and Lifestyles of the Rich and Singaporean to melodrama and philosophy, from exotic locations to comedy. But at its heart it is the story of a woman, Rachel, who is secure enough in her own place in the world to not be seduced by the cornucopia of riches on offer. It’s about character and how it relates to individualism versus tradition.
The plotting is pure rom com—couple fall in love, are forced apart and (SPOILER ALERT ONLY IF YOU’VE NEVER SEEN A ROM COM BEFORE) yet find a way to make their love work despite all obstacles—but it is populated with appealing characters to guide the story.
Wu is the film’s beating heart, bringing empathy and humanity to the high-flying world portrayed. Ditto Gemma Chan, an extravagantly wealthy woman trying to make sense of a marriage torn apart by money and status. As Nick’s icy mother Michelle Yeoh displays an ability to reveal much by doing very little.
On the com side of things is Awkwafina as Rachel’s best friend. She steals every scene she’s in, even when up against veteran eye catcher Ken Jeong.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is an escapist fantasy that entertains with its labyrinthine soap opera twists and turns, lush settings and all Asian cast—a first in a quarter century in Hollywood—but also digs a little deeper into the similarities and differences between the characters and cultures.