Tuesday 20 November 2018

Crazy Rich Asians movie review: Crazy in love with this old time romcom

5 stars

Nick’s mother, played by Michelle Yeoh (left), does not approve of Rachel
Nick’s mother, played by Michelle Yeoh (left), does not approve of Rachel

Paul Whitington

A comedy with brains and glamour, Crazy Rich Asians arrives in cinemas long after most of us had given up hope of ever seeing a really great romcom again. Hollywood has forgotten how to make them, the received wisdom went. Well, it seems as if someone has remembered.

A comedy with brains and glamour, Crazy Rich Asians arrives in cinemas long after most of us had given up hope of ever seeing a really great romcom again. Hollywood has forgotten how to make them, the received wisdom went. Well, it seems as if someone has remembered.

Awkwafina gets some of the movie’s biggest laughs
Awkwafina gets some of the movie’s biggest laughs

Jon M Chu's film is old fashioned in the best possible sense, in that it abandons scattergun references to the male sexual organ in favour of sentiment, and actual romance, and pits an apparently perfect couple against the scheming interference of families and friends. It also has a thing or two to say about the shifting tectonic plates of geopolitical power, but more on that in a moment.

New York Chinese-American college professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) has been dating the suave bachelor Nick Young (Henry Golding) for a year, but hasn't managed to find out an awful lot about him. So she's thrilled when Nick invites her to attend his best friend's wedding in his native Singapore, as it will provide the perfect opportunity to meet his extended family. Rachel is puzzled when they turn up at JFK and are ushered into their own private first class cabin for the flight: it's a business perk, Nick insists, and adds that his family are "comfortable". But when they arrive in Singapore, Rachel finds out they're a little better off than that.

It turns out the Youngs are one of the richest families on the Malay Peninsula, making Nick the region's most eligible bachelor. He and Rachel's arrival has been anticipated by a wealthy network of international society spies, who quickly decide that she's both a 'nobody' and a 'gold-digging bitch', as one acidic text puts it. So the knives are out when Rachel attends a hen party on a nearby tropical island, and things get worse when she attends a party at the Young family's huge and imposing mansion.

Nick's father is absent on business, and is apparently working himself into an early grave keeping the family's business empire going, but his mother Eleanor (an excellent Michelle Yeoh) is present, correct and not at all impressed. She dotes on her beloved Nick, and while it's doubtful if anyone would ever be good enough for him, some penniless academic from a family no one's ever heard of will certainly not do.

Eleanor lets Rachel know exactly what she thinks of her and Nick's formidable grandmother isn't over the moon about their relationship either. Nick, meanwhile, is planning a proposal, but the odds seem stacked against its success.

It's been pointed out that Nick and Rachel, while blandly pleasant, are possibly the least interesting characters in the film: we care about their happiness of course, but they're rather earnest. What makes this film work is the colourful gallery of eccentrics and gargoyles that surround them.

Awkwafina, who you may remember from Ocean's 8, plays Goh Peik Lin, Rachel's Singaporean college friend who provides a lifeline when things get rough. Goh dresses loudly but fashionably, and combines the booming self-confidence of an American with the wiliness of a local: she earns some of the film's biggest laughs, and Ken Jeong, who plays her wealthy father, is even funnier.

Jeong stretched my patience in the Hangover films, but is brilliant here as a cheerfully vulgar Singaporean businessman who talks first, thinks later. During a wonderfully chaotic dinner scene, he tells his two youngest children to eat up their noodles because "you know there are children in America starving".

There's been moaning about the ethnicity of some of the actors (Henry Golding is part British) and complaints about a lopsided depiction of Singaporean life. But this is a romcom, not a social documentary, and it happens to be a very good one.

Crazy Rich Asians (12A, 121mins)

Everything you need to know about Crazy Rich Asians 

How Asians struck it Rich 

Gemma Chan – Period dramas have limited the opportunities for diverse actors

Irish Independent

Entertainment Newsletter

Going out? Staying in? From great gigs to film reviews and listings, entertainment has you covered.

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top