Faith and Film: Crazy Rich Asians

Movie Review by Fr. Tom Condon, O.P.

Crazy Rich Asians has generated a lot of buzz this summer for two reasons:  First, it’s the first major studio film in memory which features an all-Asian cast. Second, many have wondered if it can bring back the genre of romantic comedy (“rom-com”). Once a main stay of the American cinema, rom-coms have become increasingly rare in the last few years, with the exception of such recent independent films as last year’s The Big Sick.

Crazy Rich Asians has become a big late summer hit, so it may well inspire other rom-coms. In the last couple of years, in which Hollywood, after much criticism, has increased its output of ethnic films, Crazy Rich Asians certainly indicates that there is an audience for Asian movies.

Crazy Rich Asians, based on the novel by the same name, is rather formulaic in its story. Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding) are a couple living in New York. Nick tells Rachel that he is going back home to Singapore for a wedding. He invites her to come with him. Rachel agrees, thinking it would be a good chance to see her college roommate, who lives there.

Once they arrive in Singapore, Rachel finds out to her surprise that Nick is a member of a very wealthy, prominent family. Because she is not wealthy, and was raised by a single mom, Nick’s Mother dislikes Rachel, thinking she is not good enough for her son. Family members do everything they can to break up the couple. Will Nick and Rachel’s love endure?

The movie has its charms. Constance Wu and Henry Golding make an attractive couple, with good chemistry. There is some humor, but not as much as I expected. The element of the movie that stands out the most to me is the opulent production design. A big party given by Nick’s family is as extravagant as the party in The Great Gatsby. The wedding that Nick and Rachel attend is also quite grand. Throughout the movie, the sets and costumes remind the audience that these are indeed very rich people, living in their own world.

Overall, Crazy Rich Asians is modestly entertaining. It’s disappointing that director John Chu doesn’t reach for more depth of character, satire, or even physical comedy. Even so, the success of the film is a good sign in mainstream Hollywood, which doesn’t think outside the box. Nevertheless, Crazy Rich Asians shows that the rom-com is far from dead. And that films made by Asians, with Asian actors, can be embraced by mainstream audiences.