There’s something comforting about a fluffy film, like a romantic comedy. There’s a reason the Hallmark Channel makes a ton of these films each year and releases a much-anticipated list of holiday movies annually. There’s something warm and fuzzy about watching people fall in love, overcome obstacles and discover their happy ending. After all, isn’t a happy ending what most of us are looking for in life? I don’t watch rom-coms very much anymore, but I used to love them, and I still have a few that I revisit from time to time.
As a voracious reader, I had seen the novel “Crazy Rich Asians” pop up in local bookstores and on my Goodreads app. When I saw the trailer for the film, I decided right away it looked like a Hallmark movie, but cast completely with Asian actors. Considering how many Hallmark movies are cast solely with white people, this seems a fitting analogy. “Crazy Rich Asians” looked fluffy like a standard rom-com, but its cast and exotic location had the ability to set it apart.
“Crazy Rich Asians” tells the story of Chinese-American Rachel Hu (Constance Wu), an economics professor at NYU. Her boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding in his first acting gig ever), invites her home to Singapore for his friend’s wedding and also to meet his family. Rachel and Nick have been dating for more than a year, and they lead a simple life.
As they start on their trip, Rachel discovers her simple boyfriend is a bit more than she realized. Nick’s family is basically Singapore’s wealthiest family. There’s a joke in the trailer where she calls him Prince William, and he elaborates he’s more of a Prince Harry.
As is standard with this kind of storyline, where there’s money, there’s someone who disapproves of commoners. In this case, it’s Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), the matriarch of this crazy rich family. From the character’s introduction, the audience is quickly informed that Eleanor doesn’t take prisoners or suffer fools. She’s role-model worthy if you don’t count the fact she’s completely cruel. It’s not just that Rachel is common, but it’s the fact that she’s not Asian enough. She’s Chinese-American, or a banana as Rachel’s friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina) comments. In other words, she’s “yellow” on the outside but white on the inside.
At this point, “Crazy Rich Asians” starts to feel a lot like a movie you’ve seen before. Rachel and Nick are madly in love, but can their relationship survive plans potentially greater than them? (Cue ominous music.) After all, Nick would have to choose between running the family business and being with the woman he loves. His family will never approve of her, right? And of course, Rachel must decide if her love for Nick can withstand the pressures and downright mean comments that keep coming her way.
So yeah, “Crazy Rich Asians” has all the trappings of your standard rom-com and trashy 1980s nighttime soap opera. Move over, Sue Ellen Ewing or Alexis Carrington — those are “Dallas” and “Dynasty” references for those not well versed in melodrama from 30 years ago — because Eleanor Young is going to show you who the real Queen of Mean is. In all seriousness, Yeoh in a white pantsuit is the stuff badass female dreams are made of. If I could pull it off, I’d be buying one for every day of the week.
To add to the melodrama, Rachel’s story isn’t the only featured in the film. Nick’s cousin, Astrid (Gemma Chan), is having marital troubles. Her husband believes his manhood is measured by the number of dollar signs attached to his name. This leaves Astrid walking on eggshells and hiding the $1.2 million earrings and other goodies she buys herself. Yeah, $1.2 million for a pair of earrings. I’d buy those to go with my white pantsuit, just so you know.
While “Crazy Rich Asians” might be mired in melodrama and unoriginal story lines, it’s not a bad movie. Honestly, it’s all right, and the big wedding scene near the end is pretty amazing. (Seriously, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is used while an actual small river flows toward the groom and faux nature lights line the aisle. It was pretty fantastic, and I’m making plans for my wedding to one day have a white pantsuit, million-dollar earrings and an actual river flowing down the aisle as I gracefully stalk my way to the altar. OK, I’m being facetious, but Elvis and an actual river would be all kinds of amazing.)
I’ve focused a lot on the storyline aspect of “Crazy Rich Asians,” but there’s a lot more to this story than that. The film is stereotypical on a lot of levels, except one. The film celebrates Asian culture and cinema. The film is lavish and rich in palette and settings. It’s absolutely gorgeous to see, from the costumes to the settings. Everything is beautiful. Except Awkwafina’s horrible wig, but it’d be unreasonable to expect perfection on all aesthetics, right?
The film truly does celebrate Asian culture, though. Whether it’s a pivotal mahjong game that isn’t explained to the audience or various moments throughout — including Mandarin with no subtitles or the family making dumplings together — the film is proud of the culture it represents, and it doesn’t feel it necessary to explain anything to audience members who might not get each reference.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is a huge moment for representation in cinema. For decades, we’ve seen all-white casts, and it’s nothing unusual or something to even make note of. It’s just the norm.
“Crazy Rich Asians” made history. According to The Los Angeles Times, the film is the first contemporary English-language Hollywood film with an all-Asian cast since “The Joy Luck Club” — a great movie and book — came out 25 years ago. I wish I could say it’s worth the wait, but it does have its charms. The film itself isn’t memorable, but it does open an important door in Hollywood, and maybe that’s all that matters.