Crazy fun cinema
A smart and lively romantic-comedy
Riding high on independent spirit and niche savvy as well as the shrewd ballyhoo of a kind of DIY promotional campaign, Crazy Rich Asians was no. 1 at the box-office in its first weekend. It’s being celebrated as a landmark of Asian-American filmmaking, and deservedly so. And best of all, it’s a smart and lively romantic-comedy, a multicharacter entertainment that keeps its sense of serious fun fully in play from beginning to end.
The central romance in all this is between Nick Young (Henry Golding) and Rachel Chu (Constance Wu). He is a brilliant young businessman and the expatriate scion of a massively wealthy family in Singapore, and she is an economics professor at NYU and the daughter of an immigrant single mom. Nick invites her to travel with him to Singapore, where he will be the best man at a wedding on old family turf.
The Singapore trip advances the love story between those two, but it also takes them into the tangled relationships and deeply entrenched history of Nick’s family and friends. A diverse array of siblings, cousins, lovers and pals complicate things, comedy-wise and otherwise. And particularly dramatic challenges come from Nick’s aunts, his grandmother (Lisa Lu) and, most crucially, his stately mother Eleanor (a superb Michelle Yeoh). Overall, the Singapore sojourn has the lovers running the gauntlet between the serious drama of family tradition vs. individual freedom on the one hand and the satire and farce of outrageously excessive wealth on the other.
Director Jon Chu mixes tones and moods in ways that seem right for the multifaceted bi-play of this story (adapted from Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel of the same name). It’s very much to the credit of Golding and Wu that their performances form a credible emotional bridge between the nuanced dramas overseen by Eleanor and the farcical satire of wealthy pleasure-seekers run amok.
Single-note caricature dominates the more comical performances. But there is a kind of inspired lunacy to Awkwafina’s performance as Peik Lin Goh, Rachel’s ultra-zany friend from college days. And Ken Jeong (as Peik Lin Goh’s similarly antic dad) and Nico Santos (as Nick’s exuberantly oddball cousin) have flashes of a similar brilliance.