I thought Awkwafina was wasted in “Ocean’s 8” but after seeing her steal the show in this I *really* think Awkwafina was wasted in “Ocean’s 8.”
“Crazy Rich Asians” is the adaptation of the novel of the same name, and follows an American-born Asian woman (Constance Wu) who travels to Singapore with her boyfriend (Henry Golding), only to find out he comes from an extremely rich family and must win the approval of his mother (Michelle Yeoh). Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Nico Santos, Ken Jeong, Awkwafina and Ronny Chieng also star as Jon M. Chu directs.
The past few years have been historic for cinema, with “Love, Simon” being the first studio film about an openly gay teenager and Jordan Peele becoming the first black person to win Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards. “Crazy Rich Asians” is the first major Hollywood film with an all-Asian cast since 1993’s “The Joy Luck Club” and for that reason it is important. But how is it as a romantic-comedy in its own right? Mehhh, like, it’s fine.
Films can be basic in story or genre but still find new ways to twist them, like “Love, Simon” with the coming-of-age high school dramedy or Netflix’s romcom “Set It Up” (check that out if you haven’t!). “Crazy Rich Asians” really doesn’t try to throw a wrench in its romantic comedy/Cinderalla/“impress the future in-laws” formula and at times that is fine because the glitz and glamour distract you, but at other points it makes you wish something unexpected would happen. The film is simple, weightless fluff for sure but it is also pretty hollow.
If “Entourage” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” exist to let audiences experience the excessive lifestyles of the 1% then this is in that category and arguably does it better. From the $40 million wedding receptions to the cargo ships converted into huge bachelor party yachts, there are numerous occasions where both the “crazy” and the “rich” part of the title come into play. The set pieces have lives of their own and jump right off the screen, and are probably the second best thing about the entire film.
I say second because Awkwafina absolutely steals this thing. From Michelle Williams in “I Feel Pretty” to Anne Hathaway in “Ocean’s 8,” 2018 has had numerous instances of supporting actresses outshining both their co-stars and the overall film they’re in. Awkwafina (real name Lora Num) plays the former college roommate of Constance Wu’s main character Rachel and is so energetic, random and bubbly that every scene she is not in has noticeable drop in both eminence and amusement (she has one irrelevant response to Wu in particular that had my friend in actual tears).
There are a few other comedic moments too, but often they are awkward and/or clunky. I’m not sure if this stemmed from the writing or if Chu wasn’t entirely confident if the joke would work for the film’s demographic, but one running gag in particular involving Awkwafina’s creepy brother feels like it belonged in an entirely different movie.
As the romantic leads and main characters, Wu and Henry Golding have decent enough chemistry, although they actually aren’t together for a majority of the film’s first half (they’re each off doing wedding events with their respective bridal groups). Michelle Yeoh turns in fine work as Golding’s controlling and (overly) old-fashion mother and Nico Santos has some amusing lines as Nick’s colorful cousin.
“Crazy Rich Asians” will be a much more relatable and personal film to some people than it will be to others, although like Jordan Peele has discussed with “Get Out,” even if you take race out of the film meeting someone’s parents for the first time is a terrifying but universally shared experience. The cast is solid and the production design sublime but the familiarity and some pacing issues hold “Crazy Rich Asians” back from being anything more than a typical feel-good, disposable romcom. But for some viewers, there will be nothing inherently wrong with that.
Critic’s Grade: C