On the Upside, Crazy Rich Asians Is a Genuine Cultural Milestone. On the Downside, It's ... Not That Good? | Film Review | Indy Week
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On the Upside, Crazy Rich Asians Is a Genuine Cultural Milestone. On the Downside, It's ... Not That Good? 

Crazy Rich Asians

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Crazy Rich Asians

The big-budget romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians is an interesting specimen. As the first major studio film in twenty-five years to feature an all-Asian cast, it's an important milestone in terms of cultural representation. The film manages to be a significant cinematic event, and maybe even an Important Film, without actually being a particularly good movie.

Constance Wu headlines the ensemble cast as Rachel Chu, a young NYU economics professor from a modest immigrant family. Rachel's boyfriend is Singaporean Nick Young (Henry Golding), and the adventure starts when Nick invites Rachel back home for his best friend's wedding. Nick wants Rachel to meet his family, a big step in any courtship. But Nick's parents aren't just rich, they're—yes, that's right—crazy rich.

What follows is a guided tour of the .001 percent lifestyle in Singapore. Director John M. Chu films slick montages of opulent parties and luxury sports cars. In between, he tells a very familiar story of true love overcoming obstacles of family tradition.

Nick's imperious mother (Michelle Yeoh) does not trust Rachel—or assimilated Asian-Americans in general. The subtle performances by Yeoh and Wu anchor this central conflict in emotional authenticity, and I loved learning about the cultural specifics and odd prejudices of Singaporean high society. (Rachel is called a banana: yellow on the outside, white on the inside.) But the core story is dead tired and adds nothing new to the ancient rom-com template. I've seen this movie a million times, and so have you. But it's usually full of white people, and who could begrudge Asian Americans a standard rom-com to call their own?

Still, there's this: The film's relentless glorification of extravagant wealth and conspicuous consumption left me literally queasy, like I'd eaten too much sugar. All I could think of, watching yet another goddamn crane shot of a celebrity deejay rocking a thousand blinged-out rich kids, is global wealth imbalance, which is truly crazy.

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