Representationally radical, Crazy Rich Asians arrives with massive box office success stateside. This romantic comedy tells a straightforward story of love gambled and won, but does so with an impressive all-Asian cast that can’t quite elevate a lacklustre script.
The terrific, charming Constance Wu is Rachel, an NYU professor going out with the ambiguously minted Nick (Henry Golding). He wants to introduce her to his secretly uber-wealthy family in Singapore, and his best friend’s wedding provides the perfect chance. Upon their arrival a gamut of eccentric and eclectic family members and friends is introduced, all eager to test Rachel’s mettle.
Director Jon M. Chu finds most of the film’s bulk and laughs in the antics of these figures, though they are a mixed bag. Among others, Henry’s stately sister Astrid (Gemma Chan) is locked in a passionless marriage, while his mother (Michelle Yeoh) is acidly opposed to Rachel’s lower class background. Camp observer Oliver (Nico Santos) is an ally with clichéd but amusing fashion quips.
A particular highlight, and the film’s standout performance, comes from Awkwafina as Peik Lin Goh, a university friend who hosts Rachel and fills her in on the hyper-elite world she’s stumbled into. She is raucous, fabulously outfitted and bawdy, husky American tones standing out among the boarding school Queen’s English of the wider cast.
Yet these characters bring with them confounding stories – they each have an arc of sorts, but often encounter moments of crisis that are fundamentally difficult to sympathise with. At its core, this film is about fabulously, offensively rich individuals struggling emotionally. Yet it commits a central act of cowardice by failing to critique the economic circumstances at play.
A husband storms out of a car devastatingly. In his place is left a Rolls-Royce logo on a headrest. A character triumphs over self-doubt and wears what she wants to. She puts on the £1.2 million earrings she loves. A friendly bride-to-be wants a hen party with her friends. She books an entire tropical island and helicopters the group to it for prepaid shopping trips.
The dilemmas may be familiar, but the solutions are grotesque, and the film’s tone and script do nothing to undercut this issue. This is a true shame, and it’s no challenge to imagine the pitching process, where lavish parties and outlandish expenditure were clearly established as the film’s USP. How long must we wait for an all-Asian cast to be given a script that is actually sensitive, as well as more consistently funny?
There are still jokes aplenty, especially after a slow opening segment. They are too frequently mired, however, in more inconsistent characterisation and convenience. For example, Araminta (Sonoya Mizuno) is sympathetic and normal in her first few scenes, before morphing off-screen into a vapid consumerist monster with harpy friends to ensure a hen party nightmare for Rachel to endure. There is no setup here, or in other similar cases, leading to unsatisfying payoffs.
Crazy Rich Asians is a sadly missed opportunity. Its success will hopefully have consequences that shake up at least parts of the industry, but on its own merits it is an underwhelming effort.