It's not only a step forward for representation, but it's a saccharine triumph for the romantic-comedy genre.
A lot was riding on the screen adaptation of the bestselling novel, Crazy Rich Asians. For Warner Bros., there's was the plus that the film would come with a built-in audience. But, from a business standpoint, Hollywood had never been kind to giving the green light to many minority-led films over the years. Crazy Rich Asians wouldn't just feature Asian leads, but the entire cast of the English-language film would be made up of actors with Asian backgrounds. In fact, it'd been over 20 years since The Joy Luck Club, the last Hollywood studio film to be released with a predominantly Asian cast. And, boy, was the wait a long time coming. Crazy Rich Asians not only proves there's talent outside of the traditional casting pools, but that even the most predictable plots can still be an enjoyable time at the movies when given a sweet, unique twist.
Constance Wu stars, and is the main standout, as Rachel Chu, an Asian-American who holds dear to her earnestness, even when it comes across as naivety. Despite being born to Chinese parents, she was raised solely by her mother in New York, picking up traits from both backgrounds. When her boyfriend, the dashingly handsome Nick Young (Henry Golding) invites her back to the 'mainland' for his best friend's wedding, Rachel is excited, but skeptical. She suspects Nick is on the brink of proposing and, though she's in love, her mother reminds her that she may look Chinese on the outside, but she's all American on the inside. That equation may not mean as much to Nick's family.
The writing is on the wall almost at the beginning as dutiful snoops around the city quickly link Rachel to Nick and word travels back to his hometown before he even has the chance to contact his mother (Michelle Yeoh) to let her know he's bringing home a girl. Soon, we're whisked away with Rachel and Nick in first class towards China, immediately overwhelmed with Rachel at the excess in even the most basic of travel. Nick had played shy to his upbringing, hiding from Rachel that his family is not only very well off, but the richest family in Singapore.
The film lives up to its title as Rachel is thrust from lavish party to superfluous bachelorette party to finally the friends' wedding with the glitz and glamour literally pouring off the screen. The meat of the story is in how the riches could or would change Rachel. We know she is strong enough to never give in to the gluttony of others when it comes to the money or expensive clothing. This is as close to a Cinderella story as you can get without calling it Cinderella. Though, instead of an evil stepmother and stepsisters, we're given a jealous future mother-in-law and jealous former flings of Nick's.
Where Crazy Rich Asians dips its toes into very, very, very familiar territory as a romantic comedy, it makes up for it in the charm of its cast. Wu, who's already flirted with A-list fame on TV's "Fresh Off the Boat", deserves star status after playing this elusive girl-next-door. Golding will, and deservedly should, become a recognizable leading man, if he picks the right projects moving forward. Yeoh could earn a sneak awards season push for her deliciously evil mother role. She's always been captivating on screen, one of Asia's best exports, but this is next-level. And, just as she did in this summer's Ocean's Eight, Awkwafina steals every scene in which she finds herself. Like Tiffany Haddish last year in Girls' Trip, this could be the role that catapults Awkwafina to tons and tons of roles, hopefully more leading than just supporting best friend. But, we'll take what we can get.
There are moments that are almost too cliche to really make an impact, but just as you think you're about to roll your eyes, something beautiful, like the food preparations that are treated with the upmost respect, or the slowed-down and magical wedding sequence, punch you in the emotional gut. See this with an audience if you can because you'll get lost in laughing and you'll find yourself in company when a tear or two show up.
Despite being an enjoyable production for a breezy summertime blockbuster, the most important aspect is the fact that the entire thing actually works. A cast of strictly Asian actors carries the film just as a cast of white or black actors would do. And, in some cases, they do it even better. The script is aware of what it's doing and, in honor of comedy, allows itself to never be taken too seriously. The casting is genius, with recognizable faces like Yeoh and Ken Jeong turning up alongside new discoveries like Gemma Chan and Sonoya Mizuno.
It isn't perfect or prestige, but it's not supposed to be. It sets out to tell a very specific kind of story and it does so with aplomb. This is definitely one of the year's 'must-see' films.