There are so many ways Crazy Rich Asians could have gone so, so wrong. Had it relied more on schlock, silliness, or stereotypes, it might well have been one of summer’s more disappointing offerings. It could easily have turned into a trite mess or been little more than a two-hour ad for the Singapore Tourism Board or landed as yet another slapstick, fish-out-of-water flick.
Fortunately, it’s none of that.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s massive bestseller and helmed by Jon M. Chu, Crazy Rich Asians is an absurdly delightful, richly entertaining rom-com that shatters all expectations on its way to delivering one of the better, more fulfilling movie experiences of the year.
Constance Wu (ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat) stars as Rachel Chu, an economics professor at NYU who is dating Nick Young (Henry Golding). What Rachel doesn’t know is that Nick is one of the richest men on the planet—heir to the largest real estate empire in Singapore. When Nick invites Rachel to travel home for his best friend’s wedding, she quickly learns about the Young family wealth and then has to run the gauntlet of not only Nick’s disapproving, old-school mother, but all the catty locals who are convinced Rachel is nothing more than a gold-digger.
There’s no real surprise in how the story ends, but what will make people sit up and notice is how Crazy Rich Asians gets there. From endearing scenes like the one in which Rachel learns to make dumplings from the old family recipe to hilarious bits involving Rachel’s old college pal Peik Lin (Awkwafina) and her zany family (including her father, played by Ken Jeong), the film is a well-rounded, perfectly crafted study in how to do rom-coms right.
For his part, Chu wisely decided to let the comic relief have their fun without allowing them to go overboard, and his patience in casting paid off, too; Wu begged the director to wait four months to start shooting, so she could wrap up her commitments to Fresh Off the Boat. The chemistry she shares with Golding keeps the film humming along while also keeping us invested in the couple throughout.
The plot itself is obviously nothing new—boy brings girl home to meet mom, mom disapproves, and conflict ensues. What screenwriters Peter Chiarelli (The Proposal) and Adele Lim (TV’s One Tree Hill and Reign) did, though, was take Kwan’s smart, vibrant story and give it just the right amount of punch to make it work on the big screen, with equal parts razor-sharp comedy, touching romance, and genuine drama. And the extra time Chiarelli and Kim took in developing each character as a well-rounded, multi-dimensional person was also key; there’s not a single stock character among the leads, making the whole thing that much more believable.
Romantic comedies have been largely non-existent in recent years (2017’s The Big Sick was one of only a few exceptions), but maybe Crazy Rich Asians is a sign the genre is finally getting back on track. If nothing else, it’s a sure sign that there are at least a few people in the world who know how to do it so, so right.