What ever happened to rom-coms? Much maligned, seldom appreciated, the rom-com was a staple of modern cinemas from the 1980s through the early 2000s. Sure, they’re cheesy, overly optimistic, formula-reliant. But they’re pleasant to watch. Not everything needs to be the-movie-to-end-all-movies. Movies can be light, entertaining and still matter.
Around the early 2000s, the rom-com disappeared. Movie schedules became inundated with tentpole blockbusters or Oscar bait films. Really, it seemed that after “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, the rom-com went extinct.
So it’s nice to not only see a rom-com, but a good rom-com and one that is doing well at the box office. It seems it was missed.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is based on the book of the same name by Kevin Kwan. New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is in love with the dashing Nick Young (Henry Golding). He invites her as his date to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Little does Rachel know that Nick comes from an incredibly wealthy family, with sister, Astrid (Gemma Chan), brother Eddie (Ronny Chieng), cousin Alistair Cheng (Remy Hii) and demanding mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). Each of them has their own issues tied to the upkeep of family and the power that money entails. Astrid’s husband, Michael (Pierre Png), feels inferior to his wife’s wealth. Alistair is making movies with a slutty actress. And Nick’s mother hates Rachel, believing her unworthy for her son. Rachel confides in her friend, Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina) as Colin (Chris Pang) and Araminta’s (Sonoya Mizuno) wedding approaches.
The three main points of conflict are right in the film’s title: crazy (love), rich (wealth) and Asian (culture). Rachel may have love for Nick, but she is doubted for being a gold digger and not Asian enough. The film then is a test for her to prove her worth against the family and economic situations working against her. It’s a traditional but classic story structure.
The film is a modern Cinderella of sorts and a celebration of Singapore culture with plenty of ethnic music, food, architecture and people. It’s also beautifully shot, setting it apart from the usual rom-com, with wide shots of the city, extravagant buildings and the elaborate wedding itself.
Now, the film is not especially new. Many characters are classic tropes (the crazy best friend, the pushy mom, the wise grandmother, the perfect male love interest, the backstabbing old flame). The plot is a classic fish-out-of-water narrative. And the relationship between Rachel and Eleanor as protagonist and antagonist could have been highlighted more. Perhaps Eleanor tests Rachel, pushing her to her limits, such as during the dumpling scene. Perhaps Rachel has to make the family recipe dumplings over and over again. Her hands feel like giving up, but she perseveres to prove herself. Scenes like this would have really put the battle over culture and love into perspective.
But the story is told well, which is the most important aspect of any film. And it fills you with a warm and funny feeling at the end. That’s a strange sensation for modern films.