As with all review-caps, SPOILERS AHEAD! You’ve been warned.
As a general rule I don’t see comedies (or even most dramas) in the theater, because in my experience they’re not worth paying the expensive ticket prices for and dealing with the annoying crowds just to see them on the big screen. So, going to see Crazy Rich Asians in the theater was an unusual thing for me – not only because I was breaking my own rule, but also because I didn’t really know anything about it ahead of time, other than it was getting a lot of pre-release hype for its casting.
And do you know what I discovered? That Crazy Rich Asians isn’t anything groundbreaking as far as its story or its characters or its themes. Nice, middle-class girl has a nice, rich boyfriend and goes to meet his family, only to find out that his family dislikes her just because she’s not rich – and both the nice middle-class girl and the nice rich boyfriend must decide whether the expectations of family and culture are more important than their happiness.
It’s the same formula as almost every other rom-com you’ve ever seen. Even the family drama and ‘rich people problems’ aspects of the story aren’t anything that haven’t already been done in other movies, so that’s not the odd thing. What is odd is that as a major studio release, Crazy Rich Asians got made without an A-lister (more to the point, a white A-lister) to anchor it. That is what’s truly unique about it, and practically unheard of in notoriously risk-averse Hollywood.
Do you know what else I discovered? That even though I had no clue about Singaporean culture – much less the culture of the super-rich Singaporeans with their ostentatious compounds, bachelor parties on container ships and weddings in man-made jungles inside of churches (whaaat?) – I discovered that I got just as swept up in the romance and the drama, just as much as if it were about average, middle-class American families. I laughed just as hard at the jokes and rooted for Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding) to overcome the obstacles and get together in the end.
There’s an excellent scene toward the end of Rachel playing mahjong with Eleanor, Nick’s ice queen of a mother (played beautifully by the awesome Michelle Yeoh) in a battle-of-wits type showdown. Now I have no idea how mahjong works at all – but I understood the scene perfectly, because the idea behind it was a universal one. I also didn’t have to be a super-rich heiress to sympathize with Astrid’s (Gemma Chan) pain or her commoner husband Michael’s (Pierre Png) insecurities.
Love, loss, jealousy, romance, unfulfilled hopes and dreams coming true – they’re universal themes, doesn’t matter what country you’re in or what the people look like or what language they speak. You’ll find all these things in Crazy Rich Asians. More than likely you’ll laugh (especially at Awkwafina’s scene-stealing Peik Lin), sigh, cry and walk out of the theater with a big smile on your face, feeling lighter than when you went in – which is what all rom-coms should do if they’re done well.
My hope is that the rest of the major studios will follow Warner Brothers’ lead in realizing that movies like Crazy Rich Asians aren’t risks to be fearful of. Showing that people of all races (regardless of bankability) can represent on the big screen in big-budget projects is incredibly important — especially now, during this unfortunate time of growing intolerance on every side. My hope is that everyone who sees the movie will promote it, so that hopefully, someday soon movies like Crazy Rich Asians won’t be unusual anymore.