by Philip Price
"Crazy Rich Asians" is, for the most part, your standard run of the mill rom-com, but it bears the distinct responsibility of carrying a fair amount of cultural significance. "Crazy Rich Asians" is also about 20 minutes too long and a little less focused for it, but those last 20 minutes are so damn good and make so much of the groundwork that has come before them so meaningful it's hard to hold much against this endearing, predictable, yet wholly individual piece of work.
When I say the film is your "standard run of the mill rom-com" that is to say it follows a similar structure and borrows familiar tropes from the genre in which it squarely exists (yes, climactic airport scene and all), but the silver lining is what it does with those clichés to underline a story that is being told to really emphasize the character dynamics and this core conflict of passion versus obligation and how these clash due to a firm belief in tradition over conceit and the cultural differences within a group of people too often lumped together. This was maybe the most interesting aspect of the film given my complete outsider perspective; seeing both how an outside country views the lifestyle of many Americans as well as the judgment and degrees of difference that exist within this culture that is completely different than my own.
Rachel (Constance Wu) is Chinese American while her boyfriend Nick (newcomer Henry Golding) is Chinese, but raised in Singapore and attended a British boarding school. It's easy to pick up on the class differences as it is this plot point that sets everything in motion, but director Jon M. Chu ("Step Up 2: The Streets") guides this to more fertile story ground when it becomes not only a question of class, but of ideals and the importance placed upon those ideals. It also doesn't hurt that Wu and Golding have phenomenal chemistry and with Rachel as the audience surrogate we are both impressed and intimidated by the level of wealth and opulence on display. Michelle Yeoh absolutely owns the role of the hard-nosed matriarch, Gemma Chan's cousin to Nick and empowered businesswoman in her own right, Astrid, is immensely compelling to the point you wish the movie spent more time with her, and Awkwafina steals every scene she's in like it's nothing playing Rachel's college friend and resident "happy to be invited to the party" by-stander.
So sure, it would be impossible to argue "Crazy Rich Asians" does anything you haven't technically seen before, but it certainly can say it does it in a way you've never actually seen before. The all-Asian ensemble works flawlessly together, the costumes, sets, and locations are all magnificent, and the script manages to be fresh and fun while ultimately pulling off what was always going to be the biggest challenge for a film with "Rich" in the title: that being to elicit sympathy for these crazy rich individuals no matter if they were black, white, Cuban, or-as is in this case-Asian.