Beat JENeration #003: Crazy About Crazy Rich Asians

It had been my intention to write this week’s column about how Christopher Robin had my teenage daughters sobbing for hours, but then we saw Crazy Rich Asians on Wednesday night and well, it’s all I can think about. It is, and I do not say this lightly, the best studio movie you will probably see in 2018.

Better than Black Panther, you say? Um, yes, I will say that — though I’m speaking to that specific audience base who is equally passionate about MCU offerings and Rom Coms. You know, MY PEOPLE!  

I am an unrepentant lover of all things chick lit. You can’t shame me out of it (and believe me, I was in a few writing workshops that tried). Give me a plucky heroine with a romantic problem, a fabulously quirky best friend, and 300+ pages of romantic foibles ending with a Mr. Right and I will scream “Bitch, take my money” at the top of my lungs while shoving dollars down your drawers faster than a drunk bachelorette at Olympic Gardens. I short-hand this, usually in a classier way. I call myself a Jane Austenophile, but my people all know what I mean. I live for a sassy social commentary wrapped in a love story on the page, on the stage, on the screen. And as such, I have devoured all of Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy.

I recently finished Kwan’s third novel in the series, Rich People Problems, and found it was my favorite. The characters are so rich (in money and in texture — see what I did there) and the stories weaved together so intensely that I often relayed the plot to people who asked “What are your reading?” in serious literary fiction terms, almost forgetting to add that it was also a deliciously glitzy and laugh-out loud romp. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. The first book, Crazy Rich Asians, blew my mind even more when I first read it, because I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know that I would be so drawn into the world of old money Singapore. But there I was being introduced to a culture I knew nothing about and finding the drama and opulence intoxicating, while the characters relatable. I implore you to read this book, but I can honestly say that if you don’t and you just see the movie that you will still be swept away by all of it in similar fashion.

The movie Crazy Rich Asians follows Chinese American NYU economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she accompanies her very hot history professor boyfriend with an English accent, Nick Young (Henry Golding), to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding only to find out that Nick is the heir-apparent to one of the most powerful and wealthy families in Asia. Through the week’s wedding festivities we meet the family, their emotional Luis Vuitton baggage, and get a glimpse into how the beautiful and excessively rich live. I want to say so much more, but I won’t spoil it for you. For those who have read the book, there are changes.  Some characters are missing (most notably Astrid’s ex-fiance, Charlie Wu — played by Harry Shum Jr. who gets near top billing but we only see for a few seconds at the end of the movie, so hopefully this means that story arc will be explored in the sequel), Rachel’s mom is from Flushing, not Palo Alto, and the plot is altered at the end, but you’ll understand why because it does work to tie everything up with a big fat emerald bow quite nicely. Much like the changes made to the movie version of Bridget Jones’s Diary, I think fans of the novel will still walk away feeling like the adaptation is seen as its own entity.

While I don’t question Jon M. Chu one bit for all the directorial choices he made involving a shirtless Henry Golding, the best part of the movie for me was Awkwafina as Goh Peik Lin. Peik Lin, Rachel’s fiercely amazing friend from Stanford, is also my favorite character in the books, but Awkafina brings her to LIFE. Her whole awkward lovable family is delightful, but major love to Ken Jeong who plays her goofy dad, Wye Mun. (Granted I saw this movie in Orange County, but the Cal State Fullerton joke played huge and the laughs for Jeong were loud and long during our screening). I would be remiss to not call out the brilliant acting of Gemma Chan as the cool and beautiful Astrid Leong and Michelle Yeoh as Nick’s domineering mom, Eleanor Young. This was most definitely a solid ensemble cast without a bad note, but Chan and Yeoh really resinated as star quality for me.

Aside from the importance of this being the first all-Asian cast Hollywood movie since The Joy Luck Club, I feel like I need to make the case that you should see this movie just because it’s a damn good movie. The directing, the acting, the story — it transcends everything because it is pure quality. Though for the added significance of the cast, I hope it exceeds box office expectations so that we have more culturally diverse movies on the horizon.

Crazy Rich Asians comes out on August 15th.