Thursday, August 23, 2018

Film Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence No Objection
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

Crazy Rich Asians is a by-the-numbers romantic comedy that never achieves anything ground-breaking but delivers a diverting and enjoyable two hours at the movies.

The film is about Rachel (Constance Wu), a Chinese woman raised in America who is dating Nick (Henry Golding).  Nick is going to be the best man at wedding at his home in Singapore.  Along the way, Rachel learns that Nick is actually the heir apparent to the wealthiest family on the island.  She becomes overwhelmed by the beauty of the city and is incredibly nervous to make a good impression on Nick's mother Eelanor (Michelle Yeoh), who constantly casts an apparent disproving eye on the relationship.  In the meantime, Rachel leans on her old college friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina) and Nick's sister Astrid (Gemma Chan), as she deals with pressures from Eleanor and the several hangers on who see Rachel as a gold-digger.  All the while, Nick also deals with pressure from his family to take over his responsibilities to their collective businesses and fortunes.

One of the great thing about Crazy Rich Asians is that it uses the idiosyncrasies specific to a given culture to say something universal about family and romance.  Rather than being an insular film that only people on the inside of the culture could understand, most of the movie-going public will be able to see their own family dramas play out in some way in what they see on screen.  

Director Jon M. Chu does an excellent job of showing both sides of "crazy rich."  He films Singapore like an island paradise as a modern city of the future that also has pristine, edenic beaches, and an intoxicating mix of culture and cuisine.  If this movie was co-financed by the Singapore Board of Tourism, then they definitely got their money's worth.  But Chu also knows when to make these excesses repulsive either in the ugliness of the spoiled or in the overwhelming nature of living in the harsh spotlight.  The film has a really nice visual story-telling style.  This is on full display when Chu uses a mixture of live-action and animation to show how social media spreads news like wildfire all over the world.

The movie also knows that it needs to give depth when needed, but is not shy about using one-dimensional characters.  Yeoh's Eleanor could have been a simple Monster-in-Law, but she fills her performance with great restraint and pressure.  Eleanor is also living under the judgmental eye of her high matriarchal mother-in-law Ah Ma (Lisa Lu).  Astrid has a complicated relationship with her husband Michael (Pierre Png), who does not come from money.  What could easily have been a story about a rich heiress who does not understand the needs of an everyman, instead took some surprising turns.  But Chu effectively uses Peik Lin and her family, including her father (Ken Jeong), to pepper the film with punchlines that really punch.  They provide an over-the-top humor that some might find a bit annoying, but add a little low-brow comedy to mix in with the wit.

But none of this matters if you don't buy the chemistry between the leads.  Fortunately, Wu and Golding work incredibly well together.  Wu is our entry into this crazy world and she does an amazing job of showing us all of the strong and contradictory emotions that her character experiences in her adventure.  Godling turns the charm up to 11.  He carries with him a strong sense of manners that comes from that upbringing and makes us believe his feelings for Rachel are strong enough to be in competition with his lavish fortune.

As I wrote earlier, the movie taps into that universal dilemma when your romance and your family are at conflicting odds.  One of the things that the movie does well is that it doesn't reduce the problem to a simple choice.  In order for a resolution to occur, all of characters have to grow and mature their understanding of what love is.

The excesses of the movie can move towards the perverse.   One of the groomsmen Bernard (Jimmy O. Yang), throws a bachelor party that is a giant drunken rave/possible orgy.  Thankfully, this never gets too graphic.  

Eleanor is established towards the beginning as a devout Christian, as we see from an early scene with her at Bible study.  But Rachel and Nick are clearly involved in a pre-marital sexual relationship.  While I am grateful that a character's Christian faith is brought up, but not for ridicule, this nevertheless left a bad taste in my mouth.  In a film where our lead characters engage in fornication and we do not know their religious upbringing, I can sometimes bring myself to be less offended by the possibility that these characters were never raised to know that pre-marital sex is wrong.  But when it is very clear that Nick was raised in a religious house-hold, I am saddled with a deep sense of sadness at his rejection of the Christian faith as evidenced by his lifestyle.  Perhaps my distaste is merely my own personal problem, but it still taints my perception of their relationship knowing that he chose sex over Jesus.

Despite this, Chu and his cast execute a fine and fun romantic comedy.

image by Yasir72.multan

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