Crazy Rich Asians has done the impossible – created a romantic comedy not only funny and dazzling but politically relevant too, without betraying its genre-bound duty to warm the heart.
Starring the American comedian Constance Wu and British-Malaysian up-and-comer Henry Golding, the cast of Crazy Rich Asians had a lot resting on its collective shoulders.
As the first major Hollywood movie to feature a majority Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club, the rom-com based on the novel of the same name knew it was heading towards a watershed moment for representation on screens.
First and foremost, Crazy Rich Asians is a Romantic Comedy of the highest order – it takes tropes and embellishes them with the same amount of gold filigree as Awkwafina’s parents’ home in Singapore (“modelled on the palace of Versaille… and Donald Trump’s bathroom”).
You’ve got your sweetheart Rachel Chu, swept off her feet by Prince Charming Nick Young, who invites her to join him on a trip home to Singapore for his best friend Collin’s wedding.
But Nick Young turns out to be rich. Crazy rich. And with those riches come his mother, Eleanor Young (played by the extraordinary Michelle Yeoh), his grandmother, and a whole host of filial duties Rachel was not prepared for.
The movie has a few subplots which seek to shed light on other strained interpersonal relationships, from the ‘rainbow sheep of the family’ Ollie (Nico Santos, who breezes through his comedic timing with aplomb) to cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan), unhappy in her marriage and hiding the spoils of her family’s wealth so as not to make her husband feel less of a man.
The subplots are a bit clunky and suffer from a lack of exposition – particularly Awkwafina as the best friend¬†Goh Peik Lin¬†whose New York grandeur and almost tactless (but never abrasive) nonchalance get the best laughs.
Characters who exist to thwart Rachel are simply there as plot devices, but they add an element of hostility to the environment, gilded in diamonds and Versace gowns – proving no matter how beautiful the surface, there’s always something lurking below.
Even worse is the insidious bullying of the bridal party, epitomised by Amanda (Jing Lusi) who poses as an ally to Rachel only to reek havoc later.
As you watch Rachel fumble over the particular customs of Nick’s family in Singapore (she tries to drink from a bowl you use to wash your hands) you feel for her – because we’ve all been there, out of our depth and feeling full on impostor syndrome.
But Crazy Rich Asians never lets you forget – this isn’t just your average Rom-Com.
The landscape is a huge reminder, but so is the food, the music, the language -the audience is dropped into a world not often displayed in such a carefree way. For most of the characters, Singapore is not the exotic destination, it is home.
There are moments of heavy-handedness and moments of subtlety that highlight the immigrant experience in America – having a hyphenated identity.
But these internal conflicts Rachel faces have real-world consequences and are all the more relatable because of it.
Crazy Rich Asian’s premise is well loved – it’s Pretty Woman, it’s Notting Hill, it’s Love Actually (the Hugh Grant storyline, anyway) – but it is also none of these at all.
Though the movie is at its heart a feel-good flick, there are unexpected depths to it and some moments leave you wondering if you’re actually watching a psychological thriller rather than a romantic comedy
In particular, a scene between Rachel and Eleanor on a huge staircase evokes the tense moments of Psycho, while the typical mother-daughter banter between Rachel and her own mom are heartwarming in contrast.
While the rom-com genre may put off some viewers, it’s worth taking even the most curmudgeonly stoic to see it.
Crazy Rich Asians¬†is¬†funny and fanciful, and it also proves that a movie doesn’t have to be about politics to be of political and cultural importance.
Crazy Rich Asians is¬†in UK cinemas on September 14, 2018.