Grade C+ - 75%
Funny but mediocre
Have you ever had a wonderful dinner where everything is cooked well, presented well, the lighting was romantic, the music perfect? Have you ever had a date with someone who was good-looking, charming, perfectly nice, but not for you? These are the comparisons that come to mind when I think of “Crazy Rich Asians”.
The actors are good, the production values high, the music is fantastic and worth mentioning because of the well known American classics (and the jazz is flawless) sung in Chinese. They sounded great, but still drove home the notion that, modern western life connects us in more ways than we know or admit. The movie emphasizes the point that any culture, no matter how steeped in old world tradition and old world money, can and most likely will change with the corrupting influence of the west. While the movie jokes with us using new Asian money as the punchline, we see our lovers Rachel, a Chinese American economics professor and her boyfriend, Nick, a Singapore born, Cambridge educated man, navigate the rough waters of family ties and traditional expectations. Of course, the movie makes history as the first studio picture in twenty five years with an all Asian cast. And while that is relevant, and hopefully sign of future movies with multi-cultural casts, it doesn’t change the fact that there were flaws that any film is subject to and must deal with.
It should all work, as it probably does in the book of the same name, but it doesn’t on screen. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t see it; it’s a good date movie, a fun romp, that doesn’t challenge us to think too much or, for that matter, to care too much either. There are two vitally important things missing. The first one is chemistry between the two lead actors, and the second is the depth of the characters. What can you do about chemistry? It’s either there or it isn’t. But the second problem is a flaw in the writing.
Here’s what I mean. The lead actors Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding) don’t seem like a couple in love. They seem like a couple playing a couple in love. For examples I need only point to the restaurant scene in which they order a desert to share, and while Nick scarfs it down, Rachel orders another. Aren’t they cute? Doesn’t she know him so well? It’s cliche and doesn’t help us know them as a couple. It just helps us know Nick’s got a sweet tooth. When his mother calls in the middle of desert, and drama ensues, he doesn’t tell Rachel. In fact, there’s a lot he hasn’t told her, his whole childhood and college life. His experiences, his past relationships, his obligation to run the huge family business which would require him to move to Singapore. Oops! He doesn’t seem to be concerned about it at all!
The script would have been better served with scenes, even flashbacks, showing us why he’s keeping his cards so close to his vest. Perhaps a few more scenes showing them as a couple in New York, living their lives together, would have gone far in establishing them as people who wanted to marry each other, and who should be together. Just looking longingly into each other’s eyes doesn’t cut it.
The other problem with the script is that it’s lacking a sounding board or partner in crime for Nick, who really needs to be more nervous about having deceived his girlfriend about his identity. The perfect opportunity would have been when Nick and Rachel arrive in Singapore and his best friend, Colin, who’s getting married, has to help break Rachel’s landing when it comes to meeting the family. Instead what we get is a montage of forced happiness, in a scene designed to show us the huge contrast between Nick’s close friends and his family. (It also would have been a much richer role for actor, Chris Pang, whose own wedding (as Colin in the movie) was like a beautiful fairy tale come true. If I ever get married again, I want that wedding planner!)
As it is, I felt like if I were Rachel’s friend I would tell her to work out with him why he didn’t tell her about his family sooner, and why he thought revealing the truth on the plane on the way to Singapore was the best way to do it. Did he think she might not notice their palatial estate, and that his mother would be welcoming and warm? Did he think that it would be fair to drop her in the middle of the hot mess he’s been avoiding while living in New York? It was these choices made by a character I was supposed to like that made me feel the exact opposite. He wasn’t kindly sparing her the horrors of his family. He was leaving out whole chunks of his life that inform who he is!
As for the actors, I felt that both were inexperienced and uncomfortable in comedy. However, the widest range of emotions and ability were found in Rachel, whose realistic dramatic performance extended the depth of her character as far as the script would let it.
Other performances worth mentioning include the beautiful Gemma Chan who plays Astrid, Nick’s insanely wealthy cousin, Michelle Yeoh who brilliantly plays Nick’s beautiful, graceful, yet cold and ridged mother, Tan Kheng Hua as Rachel’s Chinese American ‘single mother’ and standout Nora Lum, Rachel’s hilarious, wackadoo, wise beyond her years best friend.
And so director Jon M. Chu seemed to focus on the glitz and glamour of the crazy rich Asians, and less on the characters and the choices they must make. While it’s a beautiful film with the aerial shots of Singapore’s dazzling skyline, its beautiful people, its spectacular displays of wealth, it lacks the depth needed to make it a great film.