Sometimes we have to leave the safety of our comfort zones and expose ourselves to new things; revisit that which we once found repugnant. It applies to all areas of life but especially the arts. Individual tastes can change over time. Things once considered blasé may now tickle the palette in new and exciting ways. It is the logic strain I latched onto as I walked up to the counter to purchase a ticket to the new romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians.”
Rachel (Constance Wu) is a successful economics professor with charisma, class and sass. Her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) is absolutely smitten, and wants to take her to a wedding in his home of Singapore to introduce her to the family. What she doesn’t know is Nick is the heir to a real-estate fortune worth billions; he hails from a celebrity family in Southeast Asia. Think “Keeping Up With the Kard-Asians.”
The characters consist of: a beautiful philanthropist and fashion tastemaker; a vain businessman, always interested in striking the right pose; and a flamboyant filmmaker. They’re an eclectic blend of personalities held together by the iron will of their mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). She’s an ice-cold matriarch who believes in family above all else, which unfortunately for Rachel, includes girlfriends.
I kind of hated this movie, and it’s all based on one over-arching grudge—a single, monumental gripe that poked at me the entire time, like a two-hour tack being jabbed into the soft underside of my arms. I thought Constance Wu and Harold Golding were perfectly fine in the lead roles. They’re both likable, practically to a fault. There is zero edge on them. The “hate” part is reserved for the world the characters inhabit and the characters who populate it. I’m going to take a moment to focus on the “crazy rich” part of “Crazy Rich Asians.”
The world of “Crazy Rich Asians” is a materialistic mecca—an opulent paradise of mega-billions where every itch is scratched and every indulgence is satisfied. It’s so removed from reality, it felt like I was watching some kind of futuristic menagerie where the most obnoxious rich people on Earth were housed for historical purposes. It is a collection of loud, grating, super-bitchy, catty caricatures, who look like they were clothed by the leftovers from Nicki Minaj and Cardi B’s red-carpet wardrobe.
The super-rich, upper-crust existence is repellent. They make Jay Gatsby look like Jay Cutler. I kind of understand the point of how it’s presented. Rachel is an outsider, and this world is foreign and unrecognizable, loud and cloistered. Every time the film leaned into the avarice and obnoxiousness of its environment, I hoped Jigsaw from “Saw” would show up, lock them all in chained dog collars, and force them to fight to the death, fashioning weapons out of their own teeth. I get the exact same urge whenever I see any of the “Real Housewives.”
I thought back to other popular romantic comedies, which dealt with the super-wealthy. “Pretty Woman” had a heartless businessman, but he was buoyed by the down-on-her-luck hooker with a heart of gold. Seeing her marvel at his world was fun for the audience. Watching her try on ball gowns and make a faux pas at a fancy restaurant was fun and made us empathetic for the fish-out-of-water story. Rachel is a successful middle-class New Yorker. Her “fish-out-of-water story” starts in a bottle of Smart Water and she has to wade through Evian. She is a person who doesn’t need Nick’s money or prestige. In fact, it seems pretty clear she’d be better off without it.
Instead of a story about a guy giving up his super-rich, super-awful family for the woman he loves, it’s about Rachel fighting to earn the respect of his mother and the traditions she values more than people. The end of the movie features a shindig at the top of a huge skyscraper with fireworks, where our newly reunited lovers have a party with their family. It felt more like Rachel finding a manageable and temporary solution to her problem. She’s been accepted by Nick’s terrible family, but what exactly is that worth?
I think there was a solid drama lost in this absolute mess of a romantic comedy. There are concepts and ideas at play that could have been interesting, except for stock characters occupying the periphery. In a better film, Rachel’s indoctrination into Nick’s family could have been a tougher pill to swallow. There are some attempts to show the mega-rich having their own problems to deal with, but it’s so shallow. In fact, the whole movie is puddle deep, poorly made trash. I’m sure some people will find the film far less irritating than I. The whole endeavor felt so empty—a flashy, style-over-substance film with characters that range from Milquetoast to mind-numbingly annoying.