Crazy Rich Asians (U.S. rated PG-13)
Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina
Genre: Comedy, romance
Dwight’s rating: 2.5 Stars
As with smoke, when hype clears, the true state and nature of a thing can be revealed.
And as we know, often where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and after the cover of smoke is removed, something far more impressive (and/or far more devastating) can lie in its wake.
But sometimes, smoke may be just that – smoke (and mirrors), i.e. just hype!
In certain instances, hype can also be an unintentional and unfair burden. A case could be made that this is what’s facing the already-a-blockbuster film “Crazy Rich Asians” – the number one box-office champ in the United States for three weekends in a row.
The hype before, during and since its release has been immense. Much of that’s tied to its history-making feats, as the first Hollywood film to feature a predominantly Asian cast since “The Joy Luck Club” a full quarter-century ago. And now there’s more hype due to its astounding success, as it continues to shatter all expectations and projections with its unexpected longevity in theaters.
However, that hype might be writing checks that “Crazy Rich Asians” can’t fully cash, as it is in reality “just” a pleasant and lavishly produced romantic dramedy.
In the film, based on the 2013 eponymous novel by Kevin Kwan, Rachel Chu is happy to accompany her longtime boyfriend, Nick, to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. She’s also surprised to learn that Nick’s family is extremely wealthy and he’s considered one of the country’s most eligible bachelors. Thrust into the spotlight, Rachel must now contend with jealous socialites, quirky relatives and something far, far worse – Nick’s disapproving mother.
The word “groundbreaking” is frequently being bandied about in discussions about “Crazy Rich Asians”. Perhaps “history-making” is a better term, as this picture could only be considered groundbreaking because of whom it’s about and who’s in it, and not because of what it’s about.
The film navigates through some well-traveled territory. Comparisons with 2005’s “Monster-in-Law” with Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez are inevitable. There’s also a “The Devil Wears Prada” feel to it, with Michelle Yeoh’s Eleanor just as cold and seemingly unfeeling and un-human as Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly.
There have been countless similar stories in movies and television going back decades. And certainly anybody even slightly familiar with daytime soap operas would know that mother-in-law/daughter-in-law conflicts have been recurring storylines since the dawn of the genre.
Additionally, as with most rom-coms, the story is largely predictable, featuring everything you’d expect, except a real surprise twist.
Actually there are more than a few annoying romantic-comedy tropes (the weird and goofy best friend, bizarre family members, meddling exes), and a couple questionable and largely superfluous side stories.
That may sound like a lot complaints. But despite all this, the film has a number of great characters and qualities.
The best thing: Constance Wu. She is a delight as the good-natured Rachel. And fans of Wu’s TV show, the highly underrated “Fresh Off the Boat”, know she’s the brightest light from that very talented cast, and capable of so much more. If the world were fair and made any sense, her amazing portrayal of overbearing and extremely competitive mom Jessica Huang would have already made her a household name by now.
Along with Wu, we also get to see the magnificence of Singapore today. And for those impressed by extravagant displays of wealth, you’ll be in heaven with some of the over-the-top hijinks. Thus, even with a dour potential mother-in-law trying to spoil the fun, this film is all about having an inoffensively good time.
But in a sure sign that you can’t please all the people all the time, apparently in parts of Asia, some folks are reportedly up in arms over the movie’s casting. Not all of the actors are Chinese or of Chinese-descent; Malaysian or Japanese actors play a couple of the main characters. That’s not sitting well.
You say ‘Whats the big deal?’ Well, picture what would happen here if Hollywood cast Barbados-born Rihanna to play a Bahamian character.
In any event, the continued hype has expectations running high that this will be the beginning of more representation for Asian actors in Hollywood movies – not just as sidekicks or villains or martial arts experts. Of course, many were hoping the same would have happened after “The Joy Luck Club” 25 years ago.
Sadly, despite all its success, “Crazy Rich Asians” is still not in local theaters, and it doesn’t appear that it will be coming to the multiplexes here, as the annual steady stream of pre-Halloween fright-foolery has begun.
But there’s still hope the smoke will clear from the eyes of the powers that be, and the weight of all that hype can get someone to change their mind.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.