What it's about: Rachel Chu is the youngest faculty member at NYU, an economics professor, who has worked extremely hard from her humble beginnings raised by a Chinese immigrant single mother. Her hunky boyfriend, Nick Young, finally invites her to meet his family to attend a wedding in Singapore. What Rachel doesn't realize, though, is that Nick's family is among the wealthiest in Asia. While getting a taste of the extreme high life, she must navigate dozens of jealous women, survive his crazy family, and impress his highly critical mother. No matter her personal success, her American family upbringing will make it difficult to win over the demanding matriarch and become a permanent part of Nick's life.
Unorganized thoughts [No Notes Edition]:
- After being a father for two weeks, my wife and I finally got the time to leave the baby with my mother-in-law, go get a nice dinner and see a movie. As I haven't been to the theater in a while, there were many options of what we could see, but we quickly decided on the crowd-pleasing Crazy Rich Asians. It proved to be a perfect date night film and stress-free choice.
I love how Crazy Rich Asians takes a very Hollywood production and American popular culture and tips it. The film is flawlessly recognizable as an American romantic comedy and all of their markers without white culture. The clearest and best version of this is the pop soundtrack of easily identifiable songs [many of which are perfectly fitting into a rom-com] but with Chinese vocals.
If you haven't watched the very funny sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, this is probably your first time seeing Constance Wu -- but if you have, you already knew how great she was. Wu's really shines in Crazy Rich Asians, she comes off as a movie star. The glitzy production helps with that [the clothes and settings quite literally sparkle] but her performance isn't lost in it. She's funny, charming, a more-than-capable romantic lead, and can balance being caught between an intelligent woman and a naive fish out of water.
The entire cast, fully made up of Asian and Asian-American actors, comes off as a star, truthfully. Michelle Yeoh is great as the silently tough villain, Ken Jeong is given the perfect amount of screentime for his over-the-top comedic style, and every small member of the crazy family gets a moment to shine. Awkwafina delivers her second great comedic sidekick performance of the year in what is becoming a big breakout -- what is perhaps best about her performance is that it comes from a character completely shoe-horned into the story to satisfy the rom-com best friend.
The cast works so well together because of the storytelling. Crazy Rich Asians sets up the huge ensemble early on, literally introducing them to the viewer as they are introduced to Rachel. Form there, as the plot becomes more streamlined with the wedding festivities, the characters intertwine throughout, popping onto the screen for just enough time to deliver a funny moment before. This creates a really full narrative experience with more beats than the pretty long 2-hour run time would naturally have.
Thematically, the most resonant plot is Rachel's identity as an immigrant -- this is definitely a different kind of immigrant story than we're used to at this point, but it is still instructive as one. Rachel, who immigrated to the United States with her mother when she was a young child, has to live between being an American and Chinese. Crazy Rich Asians doesn't spend time showing how Rachel doesn't quite fit as a "true American" but we already get that. More interesting, part of her difficulty overcoming the family matriarch's tough exterior is that growing up in America makes her an outsider to her culture. So, while Rachel looks Chinese, can speak the language, and has a direct connection to the culture, she is perceived to hold the same values. This is a deep and fascinating discussion about cultural divisions that Crazy Rich Asians truly doesn't need to be the entertainment it is, but it helps the film transcend into a more personal piece of filmmaking than the production would suggest.