Admittedly, I almost didn’t watch Crazy Rich Asians because of the title alone. I initially assumed that the romantic comedy glamourised the lives of the super wealthy and, really, who wants to see people of means show off? In Pakistan we get enough of that in Lahore alone, except … well, the people in Crazy Rich Asians actually have a right to brag (sorry, Lahoris).
But I digress.
Crazy Rich Asians is a surprisingly smart film with a sometimes-subversive narrative that often forgoes the romcom clichés one associates with the genre. Sure, there are some of the usual tropes, like the girl-next-door Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) who falls in the love with the handsome Americanised rich Singaporean guy Nick Young (Henry Golding), much to the alarm of his affluent mother Eleanor Sung-Young (Michelle Yeoh), who blames herself for not keeping her son and heir to the family business close to the throne. Of course, this potential mum-in-law is immediately distrustful of the protagonist of the show because she fears Rachel won’t fit into the family, being an outsider, and may carry questionable motives. And of course, what romcom would be complete without the mum-in-law’s own sympathetic backstory where we learn that she herself went through her own battle with her mum-in-law, Grandmother Shang Su Yi (Lisa Lu), the matriarch of the family.
Crazy Rich Asians tells a good story with some powerful social commentary on the superficial culture of being obsessed with all things that shine in the light
Thankfully, Crazy Rich Asians knows that it is scientifically impossible to make a romcom without these tropes, and implements most of them without allowing them to devolve into clichés. Sadly, there are two glaring ones though. There is the spunky best friend Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina), who speaks like she’s African American because the role demands it. Then, there is the biggest cliché of them all, the finale with the big predictable gesture at the airport; a location where most romcoms seem to end because, apparently, life finishes after you leave on that plane without any possibility of reconciliation.
These nitpicks aside, Crazy Rich Asians tells a good story with some powerful social commentary on the superficial culture of being obsessed with all things that shine in the light. At times the message is related bluntly with humour and occasionally it is related in a subtle, almost artful manner. To its credit, Crazy Rich Asians realises that being rich is not a crime, and not all of the powerful people we meet are shallow. One of my favourite characters here is Astrid Leong-Teo (Gemma Chan), who eventually realises she doesn’t have to apologise for her success. This is opposed to a person in her life who is desperately insecure around her. Clearly, the message from Crazy Rich Asians is that without class you’ll feel like a loser, regardless of your economic status.
When it comes to showcasing the more spiritual aspects of Asian culture, Crazy Rich Asians does so in full earnest, which is only one of the reasons why Asians have fallen head-over-heels for the film. This doesn’t mean that Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t offer plenty of laugh-out-loud moments but, in terms of pacing, it is a serious drama as much as it is a comedy.
Crazy Rich Asians wouldn’t work without the performances, and the casting director has to take the credit for selecting an ensemble cast of talented actors from across the world that make this one of the films to see in 2018. The two leads are especially good, with the sort of believably touching relationship that has you rooting for a happy ending.
Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language
Published in Dawn, ICON, September 9th, 2018