DEVIN MEENAN — Occasionally, you’ll experience a film which you found to be enjoyable on a surface-level while finding its underlying message to be one you simply can’t abide by. Crazy Rich Asians proved to be such an experience for me.
The film, based on the first in a series of novels by author Kevin Kwan, was screened by our very own Denison Film Society last weekend on March 1st & 2nd. Crazy Rich Asians features the story of Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a Chinese-American Econ professor, who travels to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to meet his family.
Once they arrive, Rachel discovers, to her shock, that they are, indeed, crazily rich. As you can probably tell from that logline, this film follows a conventional structure, rarely deviating from what you’d expect with a “meet the parents” romantic comedy, with the film’s resolution, in particular, standing out in this regard. The film ultimately proves unique only in regards to its setting and the entirely-Asian cast, which, to be fair, it utilizes well; I was impressed that the film stayed true to this casting notion and resisted any urges to cast a token white character for the sake of audience appeal.
Ultimately my problems with the film stem from the two adjectives of the film’s title; right off the bat, the film gives it game away as a glorification of obscene wealth. The film lacks even the sort of paltry moral you might expect, such “as money can’t buy happiness;” any time such a disconnect between the two is mentioned in the film, it comes across as incidental more than anything. While the scenes showcasing lavish lifestyles and partying undeniably contain diverting visual flair, it becomes almost nauseating after a while. Even Eleanor’s disapproval of Rachel ultimately proves to stem more from cultural reasons rather than the expected class ones (I was able to infer that Chinese cultural traditions influenced this, though I’ll stay silent about the specifics out of lack of knowledge).
On a surface level, however, the film undeniably provides an entertaining two hours. Wu and Golding both make for quite charming leads with solid chemistry between the two of them. The supporting roles are just as well-filled; Michelle Yeoh isn’t exactly breaking typical casting mold with her role as Nick’s controlling mother Eleanor, but she ably performs the part regardless. Awkwafina is a stand-out as Peik Lin, Rachel’s former college roommate, who’s given all the best lines of the script and delivers each hilariously. The film’s director, John Chu, handles himself mostly well, even providing some interesting visual flair to complement the formulaic writing; one scene early in the film makes good use of split-screen and animation to how quickly information travels in the modern world. If you’re willing to overlook this questionable portrayal of elite living, however, I can’t fault Crazy Rich Asians as poorly-made or non-entertaining; as always with film, personal mileage will vary.