Standard Issue…To a High Standard
Besides the much-publicized fact that the cast and crew of the new film “Crazy Rich Asians” is predominantly Asian, there isn’t anything at all unique about this film. That doesn’t, however, take away from the fact that this standard romantic comedy is a great time at the movies.
Director Jon M. Chu’s send up of a novel of the same name has chemistry in its romance, very funny supporting characters, and a villainess to create the “tension” of the piece. Of course, it’s a romcom, so we all know what’s coming along, but it comes along here delightfully.
Chu delayed production so he could have the services of Constance Wu as the lead character Rachel Chu, an economics professor at NYU who is already in a relationship with the stunningly dashing and appealing Nick Young (Henry Golding in an extremely winning turn), a fellow professor. But she is unaware that he is…well….crazy rich.
Chu heads up a fine cast and was worth waiting for. She is freshly appealing, and smart, much different from many of the more glamorous, trashy, or goofy young female characters in the film. She and Golding, a newcomer, are appealing and believable as a couple, with palpable chemistry.
They have been a couple for a while when he asks her to attend a wedding in which he will be the best man back in his native Singapore. Right away we are clued in to his fame in his homeland, as a papparazi surreptitiously snaps a cell phone photo of the couple, and the entire nation knows about the liaison before he talks to his mother just minutes later.
The slow reveal to Chu of his megawealth and fame starts with them flying first class to Singapore, but he deflects it by saying that his family does business with the airline and it’s just a perk. But soon after the arrival in the city, she is quickly made aware that he is a virtual crown prince in the nation as the eldest son and primary heir of one of the world’s richest families.
Arguably the most impressive of many performances in the film is Singapore itself. The Department of Tourism could have paid the filmmakers 25 million dollars and it would have been worth it. I have never been there, but I sure want to go now. Both lavishly modern and strikingly beautiful, it creates a stunning setting for the film.
Rachel’s first encounter with the Young family (the patriarch of the family was British) is at an ultra-lavish dinner party at a stupendous mansion. Rachel is driven there by her former college roommate, Goh Peik Lin, who she gets to reunite with. It is our good fortune. Comedian Awkwafina is hysterical as the zany friend, who doles out advice in a hard to define Asian/New York/Texas accent.
Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is cordial, but icy, at their first meeting. You at first get the feeling that she will thaw and come around, but that proves to be far from the truth. Yeoh holds the film together brilliantly in a vital role as the proud, possessive mother. We know in these movies that a happy ending is generally the rule, but Eleanor creates an imposing barrier of doubt.
More of the usual complications of a romantic comedy start to unfold with the bachelor and bachelorette parties, which also give us a window into the ludicrous excesses of the uber rich. At the men’s affair an entire barge is turned into a party boat with hundreds of revelers. The members of the bachelor party are whisked out to it in a bevy of helicopters.
Nick and the groom-to-be Colin (Chris Pang) are about the only down to earth men in the film. Nick’s easy charm portrays someone who is so used to his lavish surroundings as to not be impressed by them, but we get an idea of all that is available to him when he absconds with one of the helicopters himself and pilots he and Colin away from the gaudy affair to a quiet beach. There Nick confides that he is going to ask Rachel to marry him. Colin is congratulatory but also paints a cautionary tale of what Nick is asking Rachel to take on in joining the old money clan.
Rachel does not escape the equally lavish girl’s affair. Colin’s fiancée Araminta (Sonoya Mizuno) seems pretty well adjusted, but has quite a few braindead party girls for friends, and they are acting like fools. They also are extremely jealous and resentful of Rachel, who they see as a gold digger, and make that obvious in rather hideous fashion.
The dynamic of the two parties creates the first crack in the relationship, but it is smoothed over by Nick pretty quickly as the wedding approaches. The icy tension between Rachel and Eleanor has only escalated as the big day arrives, but Rachel, decked out beautifully, impresses everyone else at the wedding.
But at the reception a bombshell is dropped, creating a very well executed third act full of serpentine twists and turns. There is no reason to say how it turns out, that you undoubtedly know, but it’s not the destination, only the ride that is the thing, and this is a fine ride.
There are a few subplots that are also well-executed, and the ensemble cast delivers with gusto. The relentlessly reliable Ken Jeong is a howl as Peik Lin’s wildly inappropriate father. Gemma Chan is excellent as Astrid Young Teo, Nick’s sister, who balances being a ultra-chic billionairess with an openhearted nature and inner strength when a crisis arrives. The cadre of Nick’s annoying male cousins are also well-turned.
Chu’s direction of the film is crisp and pacey, and he gets on-point performances across the board. The film looks great, and a special nod has to go to Nelson Coates for the production design. The party sequences, of which there are many, are lavishly presented. Some of the pan-outs by Chu reveal spectacularly overblown largesse, like a closing party where what appears to be a luxury liner is actually a rooftop deck on top of a skyscraper hotel.
Romantic comedies are rife material for treacle in the wrong hands. All the right hands are on this one. Romantic and very funny, “Crazy Rich Asians” is plain and simply fun at the movies, while anything but plain or simple.