Now, this is not to be said lightly but surely there can be little doubt. Crazy Rich Asians is the best mainstream romcom in years. From poppy film director Jon M. Chu, this is a frothy, frequently hilarious, cinema extravaganza and joyful breath of genre fresh air. The story itself is centuries old but its contemporary twist is bibbidi bobbidi bodacious.
Chu’s film has been drawn faithfully from a Kevin Kwan book of the same name, by screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, and lists former Disney exec Nina Jacobson among its producers. What really stands this particular romcom apart, however, is not the talent behind the scenes so much as that right before our very eyes. As has been widely reported, Crazy Rich Asians is the first Hollywood film to be dominated by an Asian-American cast in a quarter of a century. Some would argue that this is irrelevant and they make a fair point in wider film schematic but neglect the significance and implication. Much like the Mandarin cover versions of US hits to be found in the soundtrack, we recognise the tune but the whole rhythm is revitalised.
Whilst there are important conversations to be had regarding certain aspects of the racial and economic representation of Singapore in the film, as a piece of cinema, Crazy Rich Asians gets far more right than wrong. The script is sharp, the tone uplifting and cast impeccable. Chu’s production is lavish to the extreme and yet wry enough to pull it off without seeming as exorbitant as its more horrendous characters. Throw in a terrific musical backbeat, assembled by Brian Tyler, and dazzling visual aesthetic and we have ourselves a party.
Harry has already met Sally as the film gets going – following an entertaining, if unlikely, prologue – and is ready to introduce her to his parents. What Nick (Henry Golding) neglected to mention to the love of his life, New York University economics professor Rachel (Constance Wu), was that he just happens to be the heir of one of the wealthiest families in the world. Despite her having access to the internet and social media, the penny only drops for Rachel when Nick flies her to Singapore in luxurious first class. Make that: several pennies dropped.
Ups and downs await the couple on the other side of the globe, of course, but the biggest obstacle before their happiness is Nick’s imperious mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). Her and the catty socialites that make up the upper echelons of the sovereign city state: ‘they’re so posh and snobby they’re snoshy!’ At least Rachel has allies in the form of Gemma Chan’s chic Astrid and Awkwafina’s scene-stealing Peik Lin, a whacky college bestie from her past. Only Nico Santos’ camp as Christmas second cousin Oliver plays close to Awkwafina’s comic prowess here. Really, though, this is an ensemble piece and a charming one at that.
An uplifting finale rounds things off neatly but is warm and welcome rather than a tied bow of inevitable cliches. These are characters you want to spend time with and that makes all the difference in romantic comedies. The rather brilliant script does help too.