Friday, August 17, 2018

Young Money

Year: 2018
Director: Jon M. Chu
Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh
Run Time: 2 hours
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Full disclosure, as a white critic reviewing the first movie in 25 years to have an all-Asian cast, I am maybe not the first voice to turn to in discussing Crazy Rich Asians. The limitations of my ability to fully understand the context of this film were painfully underscored by a mahjong scene that left me completely lost as to the mechanics of the game (although, to be fair, a poker scene did the same thing to me, so maybe I just don't gamble enough). But as a Constance Wu fan since day one and one of the only people to have a positive experience with Jon M. Chu's Jem and the Holograms, I will do my best to do this film justice.

And I have a  photosensitivity, so I can at least relate to the sheer amount of sunglasses every character in this movie wears.

In Crazy Rich Asians, economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) discovers that her boyfriend of a year Nick Young (Henry Golding, a BBC television presenter in his debut film role) belongs to one of the richest families in Asia when he invites her to a friend's wedding in Singapore. Meeting his family means she must face the harsh criticisms of his controlling mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) and the conniving, gossipy idle rich that live in his world. Together with her best friend/college roommate Peik Lin (Awkwafina), she must put together a strategy to win over Nick's vast family and convince them she's not just a gold-digging American.

And she's NOT a gold-digger, unless abs count as gold.

The primary reason Crazy Rich Asians exists is to bring joy to the viewer, through whatever form of porn it can provide: luxury porn, lifestyle porn, food porn, shirtless man porn... It's an all-expenses paid tour through the best places and the brightest gems the world has to offer, like if Fifty Shades of Grey went to Asia and cut out all the spanky bits.

And as a filmgoer who loves color and energy in his movies, Crazy Rich Asians delivers for me in a way very few movies have in recent years. Sadly, the very best sequence for this comes far too early in the film (a graphic depiction of texts and photos being sent through the airwaves across the globe, as beautiful pastel curlicue lines spread across a dozen split-screen conversations), but there are moment of true brilliance scattered about, especially when it comes to the wedding that all our characters are here to attend. When the bride walks down the aisle, the filmmakers know how important this sequence is, and the way sound and image collaborate to create the most delectable sensory experience possible is a truly breathtaking moment.

Also, Constance Wu wearing almost anything is equally breathtaking.

There's a bit of collateral damage here in terms of certain insufficiencies as both a romantic comedy and a literary adaptation, but remember that no matter what I say next, Crazy Rich Asians is doing its job. And I really don't have much to gripe with, except for the fact that it's very clear that certain subplots from the page were left on the cutting room floor, because vestigial shards of character and narrative keep poking out from the sides to remind us that we haven't fully explored what's going on with the other people in this film. There's also an element of game theory that comes into play at a key moment but isn't really explored beyond the surface and doesn't carry over into as many scenes as it could have, which seems like a real missed opportunity.

And as much as I'm in love with the fact that Constance Wu has the chance to hold the lead role in a summer blockbuster, Rachel Chu is the straight woman for all the crazy goings-on around her (including Awkwafina being pleasantly prickly in her comic relief role). Constance Wu is much funnier than Rachel Chu allows her to be, and while I admire her range and her commitment to the part, I wish she wasn't so shackled by being the character who must shepherd us through this world of glamor rather than getting to be an active participant in it for much of the run time. Don't get me wrong, she still knocks her line deliveries and a few beautifully subtle physical cues out of the park, I just know she's capable of so much more than the movie is asking her to do.

But Crazy Rich Asians is a Hollywood summer blockbuster, not a highbrow art comedy about game theory. What we get is incredibly solid if generic (there's literally a changing room montage in the middle of this), and though the emotion is lacking in certain of the less fleshed-out arcs, the dynamic between Yeoh and Wu is incomparable. Crazy Rich Asians is not about the love between a man and a woman, it's about the love between mothers and daughters. Their battle to earn each other's respect is the most important relationship of the movie, and Nick is just the reward - an unwavering hottie who is there should Rachel choose to receive him.

Not only is Crazy Rich Asians resplendent with diverse, interesting Asian-American and Asian-Asian characters, it is a deeply felt story about women and how they interact. It's an absolutely necessary film for the modern age, political in how apolitical it is, and designed to bring joy to the maximum number of people across this great world of ours. You don't have to be Asian to enjoy this film, and it's not crazy if you do. It's a delightful time at the movies, and absolutely worth the trip.

TL;DR: Crazy Rich Asians is a delightful, diverse spectacle.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 981

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