This charming and entertaining romantic comedy is proof that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel or poke fun at the genre tropes; when done well there’s nothing like Happily Ever After to override your inner realist and leave you with a big smile on your face.
The movie is basically a modern-day Cinderella story about a young Chinese-American called Rachel (Constance Wu), who travels with her Singaporean boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to his home country for his best friend’s wedding. When she unexpectedly finds herself escorted to the first-class section on the plane, it dawns on Rachel for the first time that Nick’s family is rich. What she doesn’t know yet is that his family aren’t just crazy, filthy, staggeringly rich, they’re also old money. I’m not sure if Nick’s secret identity is believable in this age of Google and social media, but nevermind.
Rachel is smart and tough, a sensible woman who’s happy with her life, but she understandably finds herself disoriented in Nick’s world. Especially when his scary mother Eleanor (played by divine Michelle Yeoh) gives her a frosty welcome and makes it obvious that she doesn’t consider Rachel a suitable match for her son: not only does she lack the moneyed pedigree, she’s also an American and a cultural outsider. Most mothers would approve their son bringing an economics professor home, but convincing Eleanor is a seemingly impossible task.
Though Nick is charming and good-looking, he doesn’t have a whole lot of personality, but no matter: who ever watched Disney’s Cinderella for the prince? As in that movie, the real interest is the dynamics between the female characters: Rachel’s battle of wits with Eleanor, her heartwarming and supportive relationship with her single mother, and friendship with Peik Lin (scene-stealing Awkwafina), who used to attend college with Rachel and now lives in Singapore with her extended family. Peik Lin’s comedy relatives are what you’d call “new money” and live in an outrageously gaudy mansion, but their vulgar taste in decor aside they receive Rachel with real warmth that contrasts with Eleanor’s stately disdain.
Naturally, a big appeal of a film called Crazy Rich Asians is seeing all that crazy wealth splashed all over the screen, and the movie delivers with the outrageously glitzy parties, opulent homes, flashy jewelry and clothes, all set against the glittering backdrop of Singapore (which I really need to visit properly one day and not just for a short stopover). Underneath all that however it’s a simple love story complicated by a disapproving family. This kind of story never works without a likeable lead to root for, and Constance Wu makes for a perfect heroine, especially effective in the quieter moments that have real emotional honesty to them despite the frothy scenario.
If I had any criticism it’s that the subplot about Nick’s cousin Astrid and her insecure husband feels like it was probably much better executed in the original book, and comes off as padding in the movie. But that’s a minor quibble about the overall delightful foray into the romcomland.