It’s hard to believe that we have been so incredibly lucky to have had Black Panther AND Crazy Rich Asians in the same year. Whether it’s a reaction to the toxic political climate we are in or just coincidence, the fact that two major Hollywood movies featuring almost exclusively non-white actors, directed by non-white directors and centered around non-European culture were made with big budgets by major Hollywood studios and became legit blockbusters in the same year aren’t even the craziest things about them. The craziest thing is that they even exist in the first place. In the same year of the first mainstream gay romantic comedy (Love, Simon), Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians are firsts in so many ways. Black Panther is the first movie about a black superhero featuring an almost completely black cast and directed by a black director. And Crazy Rich Asians is—if you can believe it—the first Hollywood movie to feature a completely Asian cast in 25 years (Joy Luck Club in 1993) which is also directed by a director of Asian heritage. Hard to believe, but true. And the best thing about Crazy Rich Asians is similarly the best thing about Black Panther: it’s just a good movie. Yes, it breaks all kinds of barriers, but, at the end of the day, what matters is if it’s entertaining. And boy, is it.
Crazy Rich Asians may be barrier-breaking in all the ways on paper, but, as a movie, it couldn’t be more conventional. It’s your basic rom-com/fish out of water formula (literally EVERY rom-com trope is here), but it executes everything with panache and charm. It definitely goes big—the audience is not cheated for a single minute. Based on the best-selling novel by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians is about New Yorker Rachel (Constance Wu) who goes home with her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to Singapore for a wedding of his best friend. When Rachel finds out that Nick is actually the scion of the richest and most powerful family in Singapore, she struggles to figure out her place in his life, especially considering his influential mother (Michelle Yeoh) disapproves of her. Director Jon M. Chu assembles a stellar cast and puts every bit of the $30 million budget on the screen. Crazy Rich Asians is formulaic as a story (there’s nothing here that will surprise or shock you), but the total exuberance of the filmmakers and the cast carry this movie on a wave of lighthearted and charming excess that is totally fun and entertaining as hell.
The tone of this movie reminded me of the second Sex and the City movie in its vibrant colors, glorious fashions, expensive cars, exotic locales and Gatsby-like excess. But Crazy Rich Asians feels much more authentic, and imbues its subjects with legitimate adoration. There are some dramatic moments in this movie, but nothing gets too serious. It’s mostly filled with colorful characters and wonderful cultural moments and sightseeing splendor. Besides the scenery and luscious sets, the performances are the most decadent thing in this movie, from Awkwafina, who legimately steals the whole movie, to Gemma Chan, who’s performance is both moving and beautiful, to the comic stylings of Ken Jeong and Nico Santos. There are so many legit laugh out loud moments, I might have to see it again to catch what I missed. But it’s Michelle Yeoh who radiates on screen and gives Crazy Rich Asians the gravitas it needs to balance the levity.
Again, there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, except for everything in this movie which you haven’t seen before. The plot is formulaic and paint-by-numbers, but what makes me recommend you run out and see Crazy Rich Asians is the fact that it is so universally appealing, so entertaining, so beautiful and so refreshing—and long overdue.