|Are we entering another golden age of rom-coms? 2018 is rich with them so far!|
American-born to a single Chinese mom, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) worked hard all her life to get where she is now -- a successful economics professor with a loving boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding). Life is good. But when Nick invites her to go with him to Singapore where he's agreed to be best man for his friend's wedding, she has no idea how much the trip will challenge her. Because she has no idea that Nick's family is super-duper, stinking, crazy, rich. Turns out he's is a bigger catch than she thought he was, and his family and friends might not be as okay with her as she hoped.
As I said, this is a traditional rom-com in every way. Rachel never really makes a mistake throughout the story, but has her beliefs and confidence in herself challenged as she gets the Cinderella treatment. But whether people are kind or cruel, there's always genuine motivation behind their actions and the movie takes good time to set everything up. I felt like we were introduced to all the secondary characters twice, but it was worth it as it's a giant cast. Since we get to know them all before the main plot gets going, it's easy to keep up later.
|Explaining things visually helped me too, with flashbacks and that texting sequence!|
But yes -- Cinderella treatment. Rachel's friend from college (Awkwafina) acts as her fairy godmother, lending her gorgeous dresses and informing her tidbits about the Young family. Then she attends lavish extravagant parties and events and acts like a champ as other people act passive-aggressively (and worse) towards her. Most importantly, "Auntie Eleanor" (Michelle Yeoh) Nick's mother. She makes it clear that she doesn't approve and therefore there's no chance of Rachel being with Nick for much longer. But Eleanor isn't mean for meanness' sake. She's the film's most fascinating character, and as she's slowly revealed the fascination doesn't lessen.
Michelle Yeoh also turns in the film's best performance. She simmered beautifully with detailed, refined, and subtle emotion. Comic-relief characters hit some awkward delivery one or two times, but otherwise the whole cast is magnificently on-point in a way that speaks of the great dedication to this project. There's so many characters and they all feel important because of how well-defined and confidently performed they are. Constance Wu makes an excellent lead who's easy to cheer for and sympathize with, and Henry Golding is a classic Prince Charming, who borders on being a blank slate but gets a few great moments and comes through in the end.
|It focuses more on romance than comedy, but it had me laughing several times.|
What really sets this movie apart is the culture. It's like Great Gatsby-land was in Singapore this whole time and no one knew. And it allows for the themes to come through clearly without being preachy or narrow-minded. All the characters have their intricacies, and no one comes out as full-blooded evil or as Mary Sues. There's complexities, and characters to explore -- but in the background, the craziest, most lavish parties you've ever seen and brilliant, rich landscapes and locations. It's wild and electric, and boy, that wedding scene was stunning. All good rom-coms need some wish-fulfillment too, remember.
And maybe it has its unrealistic parts, but the movie makes it feel real and grounded all the same. The real-life drama that happens inside those amazing parties. Drama that isn't fabricated out of nothing either, but is organically involving, drawing you in to the character's plights. It all comes down to dedication. This movie could've easily fallen into any number of holes. Eternal soulless partying. Sappy, unrealistic romance. Paper-thin straw-men characters. It's based on a book and that was a good starting point, but even then, when a movie is assembled in a familiar way it's easy for the repetition and unmotivated tradition to replace the desired heart and soul of a story.
|A real charmer, all around.|
Here -- like Rachel playing a mental game of chicken with her boyfriend's mother -- a story that has meaning, a purpose, and a soul is playing chicken with the rom-com rules. Rules that have grown cold in their long years. It's Heart vs. Tradition. But in the end, instead of one defeating the other, the best of both worlds survives, gets married, and lives happily ever after inside this sweet and lavish movie.
Crazy Rich Asians may have endless supplies of wealth, but it still works hard to earn that happy ending.