The death of the Romantic Comedy has been a really disappointing development in Hollywood. These are the kinds of films that helped to create many of the stars of the 1990s and early 2000s. The vehicle gave women an open place in the industry, and many of them used that clout to develop into stronger actresses. If you look back at the era, Julia Roberts, Renée Zellweger, Sandra Bullock, and Reese Witherspoon all showcased their first bits of true talent in this genre. All of them now have Oscars. With the death of the romantic comedy, women have found tougher times getting the power needed to make films, but one of 2018’s best might help to change that. Crazy Rich Asians not only roars the romantic comedy back to life but helps push actors into the spotlight that will become household names in the years to come.
Crazy Rich Asians stars Constance Wu as Rachel Chu, a young woman living in New York and working as a professor of Economics at NYU. She recently dating a man named Nick Young (Henry Golding), who asks her to accompany him to a wedding in Singapore. Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick belongs to one of the most wealthy families in the world. Soon, she must balance meeting his family, namely his mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), being a strong woman, and staying true to herself.
The film bursts to life, creating a vibrant and colorful world for Wu to inhabit. In many ways, the story plays like “Meet the Parents,” but with stronger performances at every level. Constance Wu announces her journey toward superstardom in the film, and she perfectly shows off a sensitive and caring woman fighting for her relationship. In many moments of the film, Golding’s state of denial is simply mindnumbing for the audience. Wu must create a sympathetic character that still sells the importance of the relationship, and she does so beautifully.
Meanwhile, Yeoh forces your eyes (and thoughts) to always be on her. She plays up the strict and domineering personality to make you absolutely entranced with her. She’s devious and crafty, absolutely nailing gut-punching lines. The directness of her character will shock, yet she sets up moment after moment where it feels like she’s just playing with her prey. Despite this, Yeoh crafts an empathetic character that helps draw you further into the story. Like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, Yeoh is so good, you can’t stop thinking about what she is up to even if she is not on screen.
One of the breakouts of the film will be Henry Golding. The young Malaysian actor oozes charisma, despite having an understated role. He’s the typical star of a romantic comedy, an often oblivious idiot. Yet Golding makes his character charming, despite clearly being in denial about his family and friends. He makes mistakes, but his sincerity overshadows each of these issues. He sells the romance with Wu, and their chemistry pops right off the screen. The two actors are destined to become superstars, and Golding can easily become one of Hollywood’s go-to heartthrobs over the next few years.
The script beams characters in and out of the story at will, letting the ensemble shine. Gemma Chan may only get ten minutes of total screen time, but she leaves a massive impression on you as a viewer. She gets an extremely emotional turn and provides another character that’s easy to root for. As Wu goes through her hell, her relationship is contextualized in a big way by Chan’s. Meanwhile, one of 2018’s breakout stars, Sonoya Mizuno only gets about seven minutes of screentime. That is despite the fact that the film centers around her wedding. Again, she totally sells a completely different kind of character in this society but never wears out her welcome.
Two members of the comic relief very much stand out. Awkwafina gets to take over sections of the film as the comic relief, and thank god for that. She’s the perfect blend of snobby and independently funny to sell the “Yaaassss Queen” vibe she delivers. Perhaps more integral to helping us understand the world is Nico Santos. The comedic actor from Superstore proves to be a massively valuable insider that helps the audience believe we’re not the only ones rooting for Wu, and having allies helps endear you to the story.
The actual script pulls out moments that are both extremely funny, and completely in its own lane. Frankly, it doesn’t care if you understand the nuance of each scene. The screenplay is so knowledgeable about the place and context, it lets the audience fill in the blanks on their own. It’s never confusing, but also never sacrifices authenticity in the process. Just as important, the film never sells out an emotional punch for a laugh. In the vein of Moonstruck or When Harry Met Sally, the emotional journey of the romance lifts the film up another level.
A huge surprise is that John M. Chu really steers this film to be as extravagant and beautiful as it becomes. The actual craftwork of the film celebrates a culture. A costume nomination should be in the cards if Warner Bros. plays their cards right. It would be an easy place to reward the stunning visuals. In many ways, Crazy Rich Asians is an equal to Black Panther in celebrating the excellence of its subjects. Asian culture is never questioned as being lesser than.
Instead, it is celebrated and showcased in glitz and glam few American films can pull off. It also nails the absurdity of how wealthy characters are in this world. Islands are rented out, a fairytale wedding will make for one of the most beautiful ever captured on film, and you will get lost in the beauty of Singapore. Not finished with his vision, Chu blasts your ears with a wonderful soundtrack featuring some of the most gorgeous covers you’ve heard all year. It’s a surprising flex from Chu, who has clearly proved that with he can really click with the right project. Hopefully, Crazy Rich Asians is a turning point for the young director.
Ultimately, Crazy Rich Asians takes its place as one of the most enjoyable films of the year. Wu and Yeoh should genuinely remain in the awards race all year (Wu picked up a Golden Globe nomination last week). While the romantic comedy may not be as strong as it had been in years past, Crazy Rich Asians should serve as a reminder. Simply because we’ve told similar stories before doesn’t mean that a new voice, vision, or look can’t revive the story. Sometimes, the new story can even surpass similar narratives. Crazy Rich Asians refreshes the influential genre and will be an undeniable good time for everyone.