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MOVIE REVIEW: The romantic comedy genre is rejuvenated with 'Crazy Rich Asians'

by DAN LYBARGER Special to the Democrat-Gazette | August 17, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
Rachel (Constance Wu) discovers her fiance, Nick (Henry Golding), comes from an incredibly wealthy family in Jon M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians, adapted from Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel.

Lots of attention has been given the fact that Crazy Rich Asians is the first Hollywood film in at least a quarter century to feature an all-Asian cast, but it's rare in another way as well. It's a genuinely charming romantic comedy with a good script and solid performances.

While the outcome is as predetermined as a WWE match -- who goes to these films hoping the couple in the poster come to a bad end? -- screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, working from Kevin Kwan's popular books, find lots of intriguing ways to get there. It helps that Rachel Chu (played with both confidence and vulnerability by Constance Wu) isn't a shallow doormat like Anastasia Steele (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Bella Swan (Twilight). She's a New York University economics professor who actually seems to know and understand some of the more intriguing aspects of the dismal science.

Crazy Rich Asians

86Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remy Hii, Nico Santos, Jing Lusi

Director: Jon M. Chu

Rating: PG-13, for some suggestive content and language

Running Time: 2 hours

As the child of a blue collar single mom, Rachel's achievements and her station in life are enviable in the Big Apple. She also has an agreeable boyfriend named Nick (Henry Golding) who doesn't seem put off by her mental prowess and has a nicely carved physique.

When Nick tells her he'd like to take her as a date for his pal Colin's (Chris Pang) wedding, Rachel discovers there's a reason he has said little about his upbringing in Singapore. In New York, he's an ordinary visiting immigrant. Back home, he's as eligible as Prince William or Prince Harry when they were bachelors.

Legions of would-be brides are furious that Rachel is with a continent's most eligible bachelor and that she's a Yank. Nick's mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), not only resents Rachel's plebeian roots but wants her son to stay in Singapore because he's the one heir to the fortune responsible enough to run it.

Because I have a cousin who was adopted from Seoul, it's refreshing to see a film made by people who understand the differences between Asians and Asian-Americans and that presents its characters relatively free of Western stereotypes. For example, while Yeoh's Eleanor might seem oppressively traditional, there's something satisfying about watching her buy a London hotel that won't accommodate her. She projects just enough dignity to keep Eleanor from seeming like a wicked stepmother.

All this welcome representation would merely be a nice touch if the screenwriters and director Jon M. Chu didn't also handle the material with a remarkable amount of finesse. There are dozens of memorable supporting characters and some involved subplots, but Crazy Rich Asians juggles all of them without losing viewers in the process. Nobody explains how mahjong is played, but we can tell if Rachel owns the table.

Crazy Rich Asians also acknowledges that Cinderella stories aren't always cheery; the original Grimm Brothers fairy tale is rather gruesome. Despite the opulent surroundings, Nick's family has some serious problems. His aunts and mother read the Bible aloud but don't seem to grasp the parts where Jesus and St. Paul warn the reader about materialism. Frequently, their fortune is more of a burden than a blessing.

You don't need a degree like Rachel's to figure that out.

Awkwafina is great as Rachel's "goofy best friend," and she almost makes viewers long for another film about her. Golding is agreeable, but one wishes he had more on his mind other than simply admiring Rachel. That's a given.

MovieStyle on 08/17/2018

Print Headline: Crazy good: The romantic comedy genre is rejuvenated with an all-Asian cast


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