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Romantic comedies (better known as rom coms) are a funny thing. They never strive to meet any measurable level of cinematic greatness, yet can be some of the most effective feel-good movies out there. They’re often dismissed negatively as cotton candy, even by myself. But after having an absolute delight with Crazy Rich Asians, I know believe that there is a significant place at the table for the comfort food quality of a really well made rom com.
Making like a live-action fairy tale, Crazy Rich Asians follows the loving couple fo Rachel and Nick as they travel from Rachel’s home of New York to Nick’s Singapore estate to celebrate the wedding of a close cousin. It is there that she discovers her prince charming actually IS a prince charming, and the heir to a seemingly insurmountable amount of wealth and responsibility. Naturally, this creates some barriers between Rachel and Nick’s family members, who see her as an American foreigner who could potentially drag him down in life.
On top of the intimidating wealth on display, Rachel is forced to deal with a barrage of rom com archetypes including disapproving mothers, obnoxious exes, and nosey relatives. Fortunately, she has her loving beau by her side, as well as her friends and family to get her through whatever motional turmoil may come her way. Crazy Rich Asians makes no allusions to being a heavy or ‘important’ film by any stretch, but it’s strengths lie not only in it’s tried and true tropes, but on how well they’re executed by the cast and crew.
As Rachel and Nick, both Constance Wu and Henry Golding provide a perfect, affable, and relatable couple, neither of which have any discernibly major character flaws beyond loving each other too much. It doesn’t hurt that both are absolutely gorgeous individuals on the outside, as well, providing likable characters who ultimately prove to genuinely care about the happiness of each other.
To list out the rest of the cast would take much to long, suffice it to say that they all do great work living in simple, typical characters for this type of story. Awkwafina and Ken Jeong provide great comic relief as Rachel’s friends, and Jimmy O. Yang is hilarious as the rich, lunatic loose cannon of a groomsmen. Nico Santos is great as one of the few family members Rachel immediately connects with, and the legendary Michelle Yeoh puts in a hell of a performance as Elenor, Nick’s traditional, chilly mother. Yeoh alone elevates the material, able to act a huge range of emotions with just the looks on her face.
One of the things that obviously makes this film such an appealing studio product is that not only is it filled to the brim with Asian actors, but also that it’s not a film that has them throwing kicks and punches. This is another really well done romantic comedy with Asian actors, something that every studio should strive to produce, but it also goes much further than just skin deep.
Crazy Rich Asians not only provides a fully Asian cast, but it also has many of it’s themes deeply rooted in the cultural divide between traditional Chinese families and their American counterparts. Much of the conflict arises from Rachel being an American and Nick’s family not believing she has what it takes to become a traditional wife in their eyes.
Not only that, but it’s a film that deeply celebrates the matriarchy of a family, with many of the female characters in the film representing strong women who make tough choices. The men, meanwhile, are perfectly serviceable, although the best ones also offered up as a bit of eye candy. It’s a refreshing change of pace.
It should be noted that, as mentioned before, this isn’t a very deep film. The screenplay, an adaptation of Kevin Kwans novel by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Limstakes, has dramatic stakes that are relatively low. It should come as no shock that ultimately everything works out in the end. But sometimes a familiar story is still perfectly capable of warmth and entertainment, especially if it’s being told at a higher quality than average.
Director Jon M. Chu cut his teeth early in his career with the colorful, energetic Step Up movies before transitioning to larger franchise additions such as the second G.I. Joe and Now You See Me films. In any case, his films have always had a distinctly vibrant, theatrical style about them, one that comes into play perfectly for Crazy Rich Asians. The movie does resemble that of a fairly tale, and it doesn’t hurt that the script allows for an immeasurable amount of wealth to fund the audacious set pieces.
There are a few standout moments and sets between the quieter times, including a truly magical wedding that could potentially ruin all theatrical weddings for years to come. Add that to the energetic, almost unbelievable celebrations including bachelor parties, engagement parties, and family parties, and it’s not hard to see how Crazy Rich Asians makes you feel like you’re part of all the fun.
Helping Chu put together a genuinely gorgeous film are the bright and cheery cinematography by Vanja Cernjul and a perfect mix of traditional and modern production design by Nelson Coates. It also contains a hell of a soundtrack, both it’s flowing, romantic themes and heavy swing influence coming from composure Brian Tyler, as well as a wonderfully cultivated soundtrack containing Asian versions of pop music scattered throughout.
Crazy Rich Asians is the best version of a culturally diverse romantic comedy. It acts wonderfully as comfort food meets cotton candy meets drugs, existing only to make you feel good about this fairy tale that you’re looking in on. It uses the predominantly Asian cast to not only show a full range of characters that many moviegoers have never seen before, but also as a way to use cultural traditions in it’s dramatic storytelling.
The Final Pop
While not changing the game for romantic comedies, Crazy Rich Asians nonetheless leans into the tropes of the genre. It uses a charmingly diverse cast, bright filmmaking and design, and a fairytale setting to make audiences feel good. In this, it most definitely succeeds.
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