FILM REVIEW – CRAZY RICH ASIANS. With Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Ronny Chieng. Written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim. Directed by Jon M. Chu. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language. 121 minutes.
The romantic comedy is a once-great genre that has fallen on hard times. Too many entries these days are lightweight fluff at best. That’s one of the reasons why CRAZY RICH ASIANS (based on Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name) is such a delightful surprise.
The setup is that Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an economics professor at NYU, is asked to go to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding). He’s been invited to a friend’s wedding there, and it will give Rachel a chance to meet Nick’s family. Little does she know what she’s getting into. Nick, as it turns out, comes from one of the wealthiest families in the country and his imperious mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is convinced that no American woman can possibly be good enough for him.
Like some of the classic screwball comedies of the 1930s, the setting is life among the fabulously rich. This is how Nick grew up but he hasn’t told Rachel about it, so she finds it overwhelming. She also has to deal with various family members, some of whom are hostile and others who are welcoming. A key subplot involves Nick’s cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) who has married Michael (Pierre Png), an entrepreneur who is made insecure by his wife’s wealth. One of the themes running through the movie is how in this world the men may run the businesses – Nick’s father is away on business the entire time he’s there – but the women run the families. Even Eleanor fears the family matriarch (Lisa Lu), the seemingly doting grandmother.
The all-Asian cast has some familiar faces such as “The Daily Show’s” Ronny Chieng (as a status-obsessed banker), Ken Jeong (as the amusingly crass father of Rachel’s college friend), and Awkwafina (as the hilarious brassy college friend). Other cast members doing outstanding work may send fans to IMDb.com to find out where they’ve seen Yeoh or Chan before. (Yeoh, whose breakthrough for American audiences was “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” was seen must recently on “Star Trek: Discovery” while Chan has a leading role on the cable series “Humans.”)
And that may get to what really makes the film special. It’s immensely entertaining and colorful, and it provides a great showcase for its large cast. It also provides some insight – albeit in a comically exaggerated way – into the ways of upper-class Chinese families while, at the same time, touches on things to which everyone can relate. When the large family sits around a table making dumplings, it is at once very Chinese and universal. You may not know how to make a dumpling, but when Eleanor says that if family traditions aren’t passed down they will be lost, it’s something we can all understand.
As noted in recent reviews here, August is a time for Hollywood to try out things or to release movies that they know will have a relatively short shelf life. However, there’s often an exception, with one movie surprising critics and moviegoers alike. “The Sixth Sense,” for example, was an August release. The late summer surprise this year is “Crazy Rich Asians,” a romantic comedy that breathes new life into the genre and should be playing well into the fall.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.