* * 1/2
Crazy Rich Asians is currently occupying an important cultural moment, particularly in the US, which gets far less Asian cinema released theatrically than Australia, and places far fewer Asian faces on screens in general. Americans of Asian descent are finding the movie to be a turning point in representational terms, an emotionally powerful one for many, and that’s obviously a very good thing. The film may be worth your while on those terms.
As a work of narrative cinema, it was not for me, but in general RomComs lie toward the bottom of my preferences, and if I should recuse myself or abstain from the critical vote, consider that done and stop reading if your hopes for the film center around its existence and cultural impact rather than its cinematic qualities, which are few. It is often painful to watch. The expository dialogue is frequently cringe-inducing, the desperately flamboyant and posey overacting more so (with the exception of Michelle Yeoh, the grand dame of the large ensemble, setting a more grounded example the young ones refuse to follow); luckily, the art direction has some colourful flair, and the setting – Singapore – is rare enough in theatrically-released films to feel unique (while also feeling like an expensive commercial for the city-state, especially during the “street-food” scene, which may as well be stamped with the Singaporean flag and a link to airfares and hotel rates).
Worst, though, is the relentless wealth porn. This film revels in piles of old money and it feels really icky. Our protagonist, Rachel (Constance Wu), a Chinese American in New York, gazes at her still somewhat mysterious, English-accented Singaporean boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) with fondness, even love, but once she sees the house he grew up in in Singapore – on land worth two hundred million dollars, according to her old university friend – she looks at him with overwhelming desire, and then sets out to “earn” him with an expensive frock. Despite clunky lines and scenes intended to deny it (barely), the film can’t hide its true belief: crazy rich people have their own problems, but there’s still nothing better than being crazy rich. This is a Cinderella story. My partner and I recently and very deliberately removed Cinderella from our daughter’s video library. Crazy Rich Asians is culturally significant, but it’s still about a girl falling in love with the prince and having to prove she’s worthy of the slipper.