Let it be known that I’m generally not into romantic comedies. I’m usually the one who rolls her eyes when Attractive Person A stares into the irises of Attractive Person B for an excruciatingly long period of time. However, there comes a time when a girl finds that one show or movie or book that makes her realize that it’s not romance she hates—it’s the way it’s written.
Crazy Rich Asians isn’t the first to make me have this revelation, but it is getting added to my growing collection of “Romance I’m Invested In: Please, Give Me More.”
Crazy Rich Asians isn’t just a love story. It’s a story brimming with culture, family, facing discrimination, and the importance of knowing your worth when others are out here trying to diminish your shine. Centering on Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Nick Young (Henry Golding), the film sees Rachel finding out that her boyfriend is a tad bit wealthy. And by that, I mean “can afford a flight on one of those planes where you get a frickin’ bed.” Nick is the best man in his best friend’s wedding, so it’s off to Singapore for a bedazzled trip full of luxury and plenty of family drama, because Nick’s mother? She don’t take too kindly to Rachel.
The rom-com genre is no stranger to the “my significant other’s parents hate me” trope. But just because we’ve seen it before doesn’t mean we’ve seen it executed in the way Crazy Rich Asians does it. The movie thrives in its diversity, with an all-star cast of Asian actors who put a refreshing spin on the age-old tale. The chemistry between Rachel and Nick is endearing; you really get the sense of a couple who spend their nights binge-watching Netflix and eating copious amounts of popcorn. Right off the bat, you’re rooting for these two kids to stay together through the end credits—but of course, as soon as word gets out about the Nick Young being a relationship, you know there’s gonna be trouble.
Usually, overbearing mother characters irritate the ever-living piss out of me, and I end up wondering why the hell anyone would put up with them. But the conflict with Nick’s mother, Eleanor Sung-Young (Michelle Yeoh), goes far beyond the usual motivation of a mother not liking her son’s new partner because she doesn’t want to let him go. And it’s not just about Rachel not being wealthy, either, but about who she is in Eleanor’s eyes: a Chinese American. To Eleanor, this automatically makes Rachel an outsider, as she views the American part of her as a hindrance. Rachel didn’t grow up the way the Young family did; therefore, there’s no room for her in their home. On top of that, there are times Rachel is left watching Nick’s family without knowing the language they’re speaking, because Rachel knows one form of Chinese but it’s not the one they’re speaking.
You also get the feeling that Eleanor is still trying to prove herself to the family matriarch, even if she’s front and center—that Eleanor once had to take the same steps Rachel is taking, and it’s not clear whether she actually, truly succeeded. It’s very telling that we never see Nick’s father, and that even if we only see Eleanor in charge, there’s this feeling of her not being good enough, just like Rachel.
What I really appreciate with this movie is that it keep the conflict between Eleanor and Rachel. The conflict goes beyond Rachel’s relationship with Nick: it’s about who she is as a person. Even as a respected professor at a university back home, Rachel’s still viewed as lesser than. Even when she’s surrounded by other people in Nick’s circle who are, for lack of a better word, shitty, they’re still allowed to sit at the table while Rachel is snubbed. So it becomes a battle for her to prove herself to Eleanor not for the sake of her relationship with Nick, but for her own self-worth. And she’s allowed to have her empowering moments without Nick. At the same time, the story is also about Nick making his own decisions in regard to his family—not Rachel telling him what to do.
As someone who has dealt with judgmental in-laws, this spoke to me. I haven’t had the same kind of conflict, but as a black woman in an interracial relationship with a white woman, that judgment because of things you can’t change? It cuts deep.
Crazy Rich Asians also has a nice balance of showing off Asian culture. While the display of riches was jaw dropping, it was the scenes that are unapologetically Chinese that put a smile on my face—and made my stomach rumble. Seriously. So many food shots. The movie basks in its culture, and no, it’s not going to whisper an explanation to you. Not sure what the rules of mah-jongg are? Too bad; follow the scene and pick up on the cues to figure out who won. No subtitles while this mom is reading her child a bedtime story? Welp. You know how bedtime stories and cute kid snuggles go. Don’t know the lyrics to that Chinese song? Actually, you do—it’s the American pop classic “Money (That’s What I Want),” just in Chinese, so don’t pretend like you can’t understand it.
There are some small negatives with the movie. Some of the subplots are more developed than others, and in the large cast there are characters who will grate on your nerves. The nice thing is that there’s a variety of people of color in this flick. Usually, with a white-dominated cast, we get one nonwhite character, and if that character comes off as irritating you’re kinda screwed on the #RepresentationMatters front. But with an entire cast of color, you can love some and shake your head at others. Seriously, Nick, some of your friends are garbage—and the passes they’re given are, at times, rage inducing. Unfortunately, we all know that person who has absolute trash in their circle of friends and family, and instead of calling them out they silently tell themselves, We’re just here for a week then we never have to see them again.
There are also moments when you’ll have to shut off the logical part of your brain. Ironically, none of them have to do with the amount of money these characters have; I fully believe that there are folks so rich that they can rent out an entire island for a bachelorette party. What is kinda hard to believe is that in this day and age you can date someone for a year and not realize the wealth they come from, especially if it only takes one glance at a coffee shop for someone to recognize the Nick Young. And if Nick’s mother is so up in his business, how did it take an entire year to find out he was in a relationship? Still, Rachel’s reaction to learning the truth is cute, and it adds to the chemistry between the two characters.
In the end, Crazy Rich Asians is one of those movies that’ll make you laugh, cry, and cheer in the theater. It’ll also make you check whether Groupon has any vacation packages to Singapore.
Or, at the very least, your local Chinese restaurant. Again—those food shots, y’all. Eat before the movie or find a fancy theater that has a menu made specifically for the film.