The Movie Guru: Constance Wu shines in fantastic “Crazy Rich Asians”
It’s an old-school romance for a new generation.
“Crazy Rich Asians,” opening this Wednesday, is exactly the kind of big, splashy romance Hollywood hasn’t given us for far too long. It’s also hilarious and wonderfully emotional, with gorgeous visuals and standout performances by Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh. It’s also remarkably relatable, especially if you’ve ever had your in-laws hate your guts or felt like an outsider in a world you didn’t understand.
Based on the novel by Kevin Kwan, “Crazy Rich Asians” focuses on an economics professor named Rachel Chu (played by Constance Wu) who lives in New York. Her boyfriend, Nick Young (played by Henry Golding), wants to take her to Singapore to meet his family he’s been secretive about. She wonders if they might be really poor, but when she gets there she realizes they’re the richest and most powerful family in the country. Worse, his mother doesn’t approve of Rachel at all, and promptly sets out to break them up and get her son to move home to Singapore.
The script is a textbook example of how to properly handle a book-to-movie adaptation, restructuring the story and action so beautifully you’d never know it started out as a book. There’s none of that summarized quality that comes when you try to stuff the entire book onscreen, and all the emotional relationships are given enough time to feel real. Fans of the book will notice some plot changes designed to make the story more self-contained and cinematic, but the feel of the original novel is still preserved.
Even if you’ve never heard of the book, the movie is a ton of fun for all of us who need more high-quality romantic comedy-dramas in our lives. The movie establishes Rachel and Nick’s relationship as deep and loving with only a few key scenes, and even the side romances are clearly very sweet. More importantly, the trouble impeding the romances feels believable rather than contrived.
There are also plenty of hilarious moments, from smaller observational asides to big, ridiculous comic sequences. Awkwafina and Nico Santos are both fantastic comic relief, consistently funny while still giving their characters shades of believable humanity. The humor is particularly important given some of the movie’s more stressful, serious moments, which can be particularly tough if you’ve ever found yourself in circumstances where you weren’t accepted. They’re beautifully, believably handled, but without the laughs they might almost be too much to watch.
Constance Wu is fantastic as Rachel, showing off shades of Lucille Ball while never becoming the butt of the joke herself. She’s always warm and relatable, the kind of protagonist that it’s easy to rally behind. Michelle Yeoh’s role is more complicated, given that she’s technically the villain, but Yeoh give us glimpses of a woman who came here feeling as isolated as Rachel and had to learn to adapt on her own. Henry Golding is sweet as Nick Young, just a touch naïve but sweet enough that you can see why both women care so much about him.
In the end, I cared enough about all of them to hope we get a sequel.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.