Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) Puts A Feminist Twist on Rom-Com Fairytale

Warner Bros. Pictures
Anyone who’s anyone has probably heard of Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan's international bestselling book that's taken the literary world by storm since 2013. If you haven't, chances are you'll know its name now with the critically acclaimed adaptation closely following its lead. And for good reason: director Jon M Chu charms with a story about love, sacrifice and identity that'll sweep you off your feet.

An economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is invited by her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to attend a family wedding. Making a good first impression to your possible-in-laws is naturally intimidating, but Chu’s meet-and-greet brings a shocking revelation: Young is the prized son to one of the richest families in Singapore and the approval of his mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is extraordinarily difficult to earn; so much so, it might end up tearing them apart.

At first glance, Crazy Rich Asians is a lighthearted, endearing movie that's pretty much like every other romantic comedy: pretty people falling head over heels for each other in wonderful locations set to an addictive soundtrack. But sometimes the best rom-coms have substance as well as style, and this film has both in spades; especially the latter starring women (and men) struggling to sacrifice or uphold a part of their identity and traditions to appease the people they love.

The heart of the story focuses, in almost a Cinderella-like fashion, on Chu, Young, and Eleanor. Unlike most basic versions where the penniless maiden is rescued by a dreamboat away from her miserable life, Rachel is a smart, beautiful, and kind character who immigrated from China to America  to build a good life for herself. She loves her boyfriend and life before finding out that he's filthy rich (if anything the money is a lucky plus), but the background that defines her also makes her unworthy in her mother-in-laws eyes. To Eleanor, Rachel is not and will never be good enough for her son because of her nontraditional background. Chu wants to be accepted by Eleanor but struggles to not lose herself and Young in the process of earning her respect, while Eleanor struggles to decide whether or not her son’s happiness is culpable to the choices she made for her own family and the generational rules she's followed. In finding her happily-ever-after, Chu's "typical" rags-to-riches story takes an unconventional path of letting both women strive to own who they are and break away from the characteristics that define them, kind of like a modern feminist fairytale.

Rachel and Nick's relationship also acts as the blank-slate couple, one that hasn’t been defined yet by how rich he is or how different her background is. Nick’s relatives show other examples of how identity and class has played into their relationships for better or worse: Colin Khoo, Nick's childhood best friend, and his fiancĂ© Araminta Lee are at the start of their newlywed lives with no cares in the world since children and sacrifice hasn’t settled in yet; Nick's cousin Astrid Leong-Teo’s marriage is on the rocks because she's the breadwinner and her husband  he can't live up to the pressures of her family's stature; and Eddie Cheng, Nick and Astrid's cousin with his wife Alistair Cheng take advantage of everything their money has to offer, but they’re not exactly in love or happy with each other. Of course, all of this is done in a lighthearted rom-com way, but still it's interesting how the movie explores class and culture. The movie has a wonderful balance of falling in love with Rachel and Nick (thanks to the amazing chemistry of Wu and Golding), but also questioning what path their lives will take if they end up building a future together.

Like its similar films earlier this year that continued to diversify movies, Crazy Rich Asians has offered another outlet to ignored movie goers all over the world. There's a deep history of class, identity, and traditions rooted into the film, which was interesting to not only as someone who's not of the film's demographic but also someone who still felt like the story was universal; money can buy everything but sometimes it cannot buy true love, among other messages. Though the film is an ensemble, Wu in particular, is one of the most charming leading ladies to come around in a long time. Every time she was on-screen you just couldn’t help but love not only her, but the strength, humor, and elegance of her character. And the production design is absolutely gorgeous, striding between extravagant estates you can’t imagine in your wildest dreams to gorgeous costumes and an electric soundtrack. It’s quite remarkable that the producers and creators had the fortitude to let the film release traditionally in theaters instead of going to Netflix and truly shows the power hope that diverse movies will continue to be madebreak audiences out of stereotypes, and find away to balance it all.

As far as comparing the movie to the book, I can't quite say which one is better at this point, or if they even each other out. I started reading the book before seeing the film but didn't get far enough to be able to consider them both fully, but from what I read the adaptation starts out close enough and am eager to finish the rest.

However, from what I know of the book, there was a slight struggle with the film for me in terms of the direction. Though the film mostly focuses on Rachel and Nick’s relationship, the transitions to other supporting relationships wasn’t as smooth as it could've been. When the scenes cut away from Rachel to supporting characters, their scenes were inserted into the story and felt choppy. This would work better to make the conflicts last longer throughout the movie from beginning to the end. As an ensemble, the film has a lot of entertaining and heartwarming individual scenes, and the characters are interesting, but their scenes felt more like incomplete parts of a whole.

Altogether, Crazy Rich Asians is not only a good time at the movies and offers interesting female characters for rom-com fans, but it’s also lending a hand to make a difference in films. With a sequel already on the way, there's no doubt in my mind that the next movie will be just as good, even better. Though I wish the direction was a bit stronger, the movie is still everything you want out of a good romantic comedy: funny, romantic, endearing, gorgeous to look at, and a fun escape.

Rating: ★★☆
Have you seen Crazy Rich Asians? What did you think?

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