Charm, sparkle, romance and drama all make up Crazy Rich Asians. The heart of the film lives in the relationships between Nick Young and Rachel Chu. The two met in New York where she is an NYU economics professor. Nick hid his family’s sizable wealth and notoriety from his girlfriend, so when the two head to Singapore for a friend’s wedding, Rachel doesn’t quite know what she is getting into. Unprepared, but ambitious and kind, Rachel begins to try to navigate Nick’s world for the first time. Though we don’t see Nick waver in his affection or dedication to Rachel, it is Nick’s mother who begins to stand in the way, making it clear Rachel is not good enough for her son.
More Than Just A Love Story
This film showcases a few different love stories. Although Rachel and Nick are the leads, there are cousins and friends whose relationships are also explored as a counterbalance to Rachel and Nick’s young love. Most notably, we learn Nick’s cousin Astrid is married to Michael, a “commoner” who never feels welcomed by the family. Later we learn Michael is cheating on Astrid because he never feels he will stack up to her fame and importance in their social circle. This small story shows an option to the audience of what Rachel’s life could become.
Further, the film centers on the wedding between Colin and Araminta. Their relationship shows what Rachel and Nick’s life could look like with support from the family. Colin and Araminta’s wedding weekend establishes the pacing of the film as family dinners and bachelor and bachelorette parties guide Rachel and the audience through the opulence of what “crazy rich” really means. The over the top wedding ceremony is the production design stand-out sequence and some of the most striking visuals of the film.
Although the film lacks some originality in the story, as love stories can only go in so many directions, the ending does feel predictable. The journey, though, was worth the time as Rachel and Nick fight to stay together, despite the mounting odds.
Return of the Rom-Com
The story line does not trap Rachel into a Cinderella story (as most Rom-Coms do). Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, the story does not fall into the tropes of rom-coms of the past. Rachel does not change from an ugly duckling into a swan, nor is their brief break-up motivated by Nick cheating or making a wrong move. Further, the drama of the film does not come from Rachel and Nick thinking they should not be together, instead, this comes from the family working as outside forces pulling them apart.
Because of the strong bond between Nick and Rachel and the avoidance of major tropes, the film signals a triumphant return of the romantic comedies that dominated Hollywood for many years. They disappeared in part because they stopped making as much money and couldn’t compete with superhero flicks. So, following the Great Recession, most studios sliced the genre from their slates. Small, independent and British romantic comedies have been the option for fans of the genre for the last few years, but this is the first big-budget studio romantic comedy in a long time. And it feels really good to see it back.
The film does a great job of explaining Chinese (and Singapore) culture without sounding too expositional. Because Rachel is new to this world, Nick articulates to her the nuance of culture an average tourist wouldn’t see. The food, colors, clothes, and architecture are dazzling, but also true to the reality of the world. Yet, the most important part of this film is that this cast focuses on a Chinese story with Asian actors and director. The film does not shy away from characters speaking Chinese or showcasing Asian food or culture to make the world more accessible. The accessibility comes from its relatability. Rachel is Chinese-American, though she is seen by Nick’s family as more American than Chinese. Her outsider perspective allows the audience to navigate the world without it becoming watered down.
Modern audiences are not only interested in more representation on-screen but are starting to demand it. With the success of this film and the return to the rom-com, there is a good chance we will start to see positive and optimistic representations of many different groups from Hollywood. It may take some time, but the votes are in and, at minimum, Crazy Rich Asians is a winner!
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