Billed as one of the highest profile Asian-led films ever released by Hollywood, “Crazy Rich Asians” makes noticeable and admirable strides towards visible representation in showbiz towards the Asian community even if the feature in question can feel uneven and lacking in light of the ambition displayed by its casting and the remarkable talent presented by its actors.
Adapted from writer Kevin Kwan’s debut novel of the same name, the film follows Rachel Chu, a young professor from New York, who accompanies her boyfriend Nick Young to Singapore for a family wedding that allows her to finally meet his family and carve out a potential place for herself within its complicated social structure, navigating the friendships that she makes along with the disapproval of Nick’s mother, Eleanor.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is directed by Jon Chu, whose had a past filmography of mediocre quality at best though I’ve admittedly always found his sense of style fascinating whenever he pops up; he seems to have a rather striking knack for intimate camera composition and atmosphere that probably could have made him a substantial name in the industry. In “Crazy Rich Asians,” his assets seem to be in line with his vision, namely that of a allowing a talented cast to bounce off one another dramatically and comedically within the visually beautiful environments of Southeast Asia to engrossing effect, allowing everybody at least one or two moments to absolutely shine.
Constance Wu and Henry Golding serve as exceptional romantic leads, with a subdued and comfortable chemistry that makes their romance feel less like the idealized sexy Hollywood sparking barrel of fireworks typical of romantic comedies and more like a very real, healthy relationship common in everyday life. Their ability to sell that relationship along with that of the connections that they form with their friends and family in Singapore become a grounding for what makes the film such a pleasant experience.
All of the cast members find ways to embody their characters to make them feel like real people, no matter how grounded or exaggerated, and when they start playing off of one another what keeps the film from ever getting stale is wondering how the interactions will feel while maintaining a winning streak of preventing the film from ever actually devolving into the lowest form of its tropes at play. Nowhere is this better presented than with Michelle Yeoh as Nick’s mother Eleanor, whose logic in disliking Rachel is based in repelling issues of self-loathing, xenophobia, and toxic adherence to tradition that would easily fuel a cartoonishly evil portrayal of the overbearing and manipulative matriarch archetype, but instead is approached with real emotion and rationale to portray an awkward family affair that feels all too relatable for anybody that’s ever had relatives that they simply cannot get along with.
It may not make for the most cohesive of tales ever told but “Crazy Rich Asians” manages to get by on the charm of its talented lead portraying likable characters, driven by interaction with each other from scene to scene, more or less succeeding in being exactly the kind of Friday night crowd pleaser that it aims to be. Unfortunately, the technical aspects of the film mar it from greater accomplishments that it had a legitimate shot at achieving.
The level of acting at work with “Crazy Rich Asians” almost feels as though it should have been intended for something just as crowd pleasing but still more substantially biting than the final product. The editing from scene to scene can be a little bit jarring even if the actual content within is mostly a blast to watch and the movie occasionally steps out of its comfort zone to add a bit of visual flare to the intercontinental nature of the story that’s ultimately more distracting than flashy. This is to say nothing of the musical choices, which feel mostly prepackaged and uninspired.
Each of the points mentioned above, along with several of the more comedic performances which tow the line between genuinely funny and overbearing, may seem like small potatoes in the grand scheme of things but I couldn’t escape the constantly distracting thought that they really do bury something that could have resulted in a far more striking and better polished final film.
The flaws of “Crazy Rich Asians” are undeniably glaring but fortunately not fatally distracting. Despite lapses in the technical craft of filmmaking, the charm that radiates from the movie is infectious and has left me rooting for more careers than almost any other film that I have seen this year.
4 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.