Fifty Shades of Cray: Lifestyles of the rich and flamboyant
By: Matt Brunson
Has it really been 25 years since The Joy Luck Club premiered? Certainly, there has been a handful of American films in the interim quarter-century that has showcased Asian casts — the 2003 crime flick A Better Tomorrow readily springs to mind — but Crazy Rich Asians (three out of four stars) is reportedly the first since The Joy Luck Club to be released by a major Hollywood studio.
The lengthy wait would normally be puzzling — after all, The Joy Luck Club was a box office success — but given the studios’ hesitancy when it comes to fair representation in film, it’s perhaps not that puzzling after all. (As but one example, take the case of Spike Lee’s Inside Man; it earned $88 million stateside and $184 million worldwide, yet Lee was unable to secure financing for a sequel.) At any rate, expect Crazy Rich Asians to gross even more than The Joy Luck Club because while it’s not necessarily a better picture, it is a more accessible one for mainstream palates, as well as the sort of effervescent rom-com that has been in seriously short supply as of late.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel, Crazy Rich Asians stars Constance Wu as Rachel Chu, a New York University economics professor who journeys to Singapore to attend a wedding alongside her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding). Nick hails from Singapore, meaning that Rachel will finally get to meet his family. What Nick never bothered to tell her, though, is that his family is filthy rich. That’s enough of a shock for Rachel, but more disturbing is the fact that Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), is a strict traditionalist who makes no secret of the fact that she believes Rachel will never be good enough for her son.
Thus, Crazy Rich Asians sets up its clashes on two levels, with the conflict between East and West fueling much of the drama and the differences between the rich and, well, everyone else providing much of the humor. Forget the 1 percent: The Young family represents the .01 percent, with their wealth making Christian Grey from the Fifty Shades saga look as destitute as the backwoods characters in Deliverance by comparison. This is finance porn raised to an absurd level, which actually plays into the film’s general view that life’s a party and everyone should be invited.
Wu is enormously appealing in the central role, while Awkwafina, who stole plenty a scene in the recent Ocean’s 8, does likewise in her role as Rachel’s zany friend Peik Lin Goh. Even Ken Jeong, normally a screen irritant, has some amusing moments as Peik Lin’s rich yet unrefined dad. Indeed, it’s the wide range of engaging characters that primarily provides Crazy Rich Asians with both its zaniness and its worthiness.