Tag Archives: awkwafina

“Crazy Rich Asians” is crazy good

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.

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“Ocean’s 8” hits most of the right notes

The new craze in Hollywood is taking old franchises and rebooting them with an all-female cast. Never mind that this is just another excuse to stay away from original ideas under the guise of inclusion. Or undervaluing the fact that there is just as much discrimination behind the camera as in front of it (“Ocean’s 8” was directed by a man, Gary Ross). Can you imagine a franchise helmed by creative women and men, starring women and men in equal, genre-bending roles and full of inventive, original concepts not based on old franchises or the latest book series? Apparently, Hollywood can’t.

Rant aside, looking solely at the quality of the most recent female-led film, “Ocean’s 8” manages to be a fun, is ultimately less-than-fruitful, ensemble and another interesting heist film.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has just gotten out of jail, but over her five years in incarceration, she has developed a plan to steal the famed Toussaint necklace, valued at $150 million. She gathers together a team, including her old partner, Lou (Cate Blanchett), jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling), schemer Tammy (Sarah Paulson), pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna) and costume designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter). Developing a plan to get noted actress, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), to wear the necklace at the famed New York Met gala, the team works to enact a tightrope scheme that will make them all rich.

The film follows the heist plot to the letter: hatch the plan, recruit the team, enact the plan, navigate the complications, get out, deal with the twist and savor the winnings. It’s fun yet so familiar as to be boring at times. We know what’s going to come before it happens and though we enjoy watching it, our suspense is placated. A change in routine, especially in comparison to the previous films, would serve the story so much better. Perhaps a mole in the group. Perhaps a gigantic twist in the course of the plan (an even bigger trophy presents itself and the crew changes course). Something that makes the film feel different other than a female cast.

Or perhaps, in true feminist form, the film plays with sexism inherent. There’s a bit where Debbie’s relationship to her ex plays a role in the plot of the film, but this could have been stretched even further. Perhaps we see the backgrounds of other characters as well, treated like dirt in a male-dominated world. The heist then serves as a rebuttal to all the chauvinism they’ve had to deal with, especially considering that what they’re stealing is a diamond necklace, a symbol of princess royalty. If films are going to utilize (some may say pander) to feminism, they should go all out and really drive home feminist ideals.

The other thing the film lacks is a strong heart at its core. We don’t really get to know the crew’s inner demons and personal motivations. Why does Debbie want to steal the Toussaint necklace? Because it’s what she’s good at, she says. That’s not very interesting. If her family had failed to get the necklace in the past and that resulted in their capture, that’d be more interesting. Her motivation is vilification. Or if we saw a flashback of her past when she was young and how she fantasized about having this huge necklace, that would make her journey a childhood fascination. Similarly, we could learn about the backgrounds of the rest of the team and what drives them. Money is just not a very interesting motivator. Finding a deep, psychological driver for the team would really put us behind them and drive our emotions.

“Ocean’s 8” does do a good job of differentiating its characters. They each have a distinct personality, especially Anne Hathaway’s Daphne, and seeing how they bounce off each other is fun. The appeal of all of the “Ocean’s” films is the star-studded cast in a big plot production. There’s Sandra Bullock. There’s Rihanna. There’s Cate Blanchett. They’re doing a heist. It’s fun, and the film meets that level of premise.

A few changes to the plot and a deeper motivation would have really made “Ocean’s 8” a winner. As such, it’ll just have to settle for a fun night out at the movies.