Much has been made of the fact “Crazy Rich Asians” is the first Asian-focused studio film since “The Joy Luck Club” a quarter-century ago, and cheers to that — and the further good news is this is one of the best times you’ll have at the movies this year.
Director Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel (the first of a trilogy) is bursting with energy and romance and sight gags and soapy melodrama. There are some dramatic gut-punches, most of them dealing with class and culture warfare, but at its essence, “Crazy Rich Asians” is an old-fashioned rom-com with classic archetypes.
Constance Wu (best known for the TV series “Fresh Off the Boat”) is the heart of the movie as Rachel, an Asian-American economics professor at New York University who was raised in Cupertino, California, by her single, working-class, wonderful mother (Kheng Hua Tan).
For the last year, Rachel has been dating the dashing and self-effacing Nick (Henry Golding), who likes to play hoops at the YMCA and uses Rachel’s Netflix pass. (Hmmm, doesn’t he have any money? What is this guy, some kind of golddigger?) With Nick’s cousin getting married in Nick’s homeland of Singapore, what better time for Rachel to meet the family?
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Only after Nick and Rachel have boarded the plane does Nick reveal something he’s somehow neglected to mention for the last 12 months:
His family is rich. Crazy rich. He’s actually the heir apparent to the multi-billion-dollar family business.
So off we go on a beautifully photographed, briskly paced adventure, with a catchy pop soundtrack alternating with Brian Tyler’s lush, old-Hollywood score.
Before Rachel meets Nick’s extended family, she stops off at the insanely enormous and Trump-level gold-decorated home of the family of her former college roommate, Goh Peik Lin (an hilarious Nora Lum, aka Awkwafina). Ken Jeong plays Goh Peik Lin’s father, and when you’ve got Ken Jeong playing the dad, you know the family is here primarily for comedic relief. (Dad, admonishing Goh Peik Lin’s young sisters to eat their chicken nuggets: “There are children starving in America!”)
Goh Peik Lin’s family is plenty rich, but when Rachel arrives at Nick’s family’s home for a party to celebrate the cousin’s impending nuptials, we’re in a whole other stratosphere of opulence. (The world’s most luxurious hotels would be hard-pressed to match the splendor of this spread.)
From the moment Rachel meets Nick’s mother, Eleanor (the great Michelle Yeoh), our hearts sink for poor Rachel because that’s exactly how Eleanor views her: POOR Rachel, who doesn’t have the family background or the proper upbringing to be romantically involved with her precious, can-do-no-wrong Nick. (At one point in the party, Nick has to change shirts, and he asks his mother how he looks. “Perfect,” she says, her eyes shimmering.)
Of course, the brilliant, kind, true-hearted Rachel fell in love with Nick long before she knew of his wealth — and she’s clearly a better fit for him than the gaggle of vapid, backstabbing, fashion-obsessed rich girls who grew up with Nick and have the daggers out for Rachel. But if Eleanor instantly sees in Rachel what we see in Rachel, well where’s the juicy fun in that!
“Crazy Rich Asians” is packed with supporting characters, some more richly drawn than others. Gemma Chan is a standout as Nick’s cousin Astrid, a cultural icon and a beautiful person married to an insecure jerk. Nico Santos is a hoot as cousin Oliver, a dry wit who’s something of the family “fixer,” snuffing out scandals and making sure everything goes smoothly. (He also takes an instant liking to Rachel, who could use a friend within Nick’s family. Yay Oliver!) Sonoya Mizuno has screen-filling energy and charisma as the bride-to-be.
Constance Wu and Henry Golding have movie-star chemistry. Rachel is the more complex character; at times Nick comports himself like one of those oh-so-sincere but puddle-deep dudes on a reality dating show. (Noting the way women swoon around Nick, Goh Peik Lin tells Rachel it’s as if she’s on “Asian ‘Bachelor.’ ”) But Golding, whose background is as a TV travel host, has a natural onscreen presence, and a pretty good sense of comedic timing, especially in one late scene when he’s trying to make his feelings known in a decidedly unromantic setting.
“Crazy Rich Asians” glimmers and sparkles, gives us characters to root for, and is pure escapist fantasy fun.
‘Crazy Rich Asians’
Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Jon M. Chu and written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, based on the novel by Kevin Kwan. Rated PG-13 (for some suggestive content and language). Running time: 120 minutes. Opens Wednesday at local theaters.