‘Crazy Rich Asians’ prove family drama is universally funny

By David Mullen

Photo courtesy of Color Force
Constance Wu and Awkwafina in “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Remember a few years ago when Academy Award voters were criticized for seemingly avoiding minority performers in their top award categories?

Then the 2016 film “Moonlight,” which starred two gay black male characters living in a troubled neighborhood in Miami, won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The much underrated “Hidden Figures,” also a Best Picture nominee, featured three black women trying to get acknowledged for their distinguished work at NASA.

The 2017 movie “Get Out” was nominated for Best Picture as a comedy/thriller, which had an African American underdog terrorized by an upscale white family. Mexican American filmmaker Guillermo del Toro co-wrote, produced and directed “The Shape of Water,” which won Best Picture and Best Director.

This year, the action movie “Black Panther,” showcasing an African American hero played by Chadwick Boseman, has made $900 million in the U.S. alone so far. Films like “Blindspotting” and “Sorry to Bother You,” both Oscar contenders, had African American characters being challenged by white police officers in Oakland.

Now comes “Crazy Rich Asians,” a bittersweet comedy — more sweet than bitter — featuring an all-Asian cast. It is a beautifully shot film — primarily in Singapore and Malaysia with hints of New York City — full of irony.

The film opens when the Young family is denied a previously reserved suite at a lofty London hotel on a rainy night in 1985. The family matriarch, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), was denied use of the house phone by a prejudiced hotel staff. She calls her husband from a flooded telephone booth and he decides to buy the property.  

A now grown up Nick (played by the handsome Henry Golding) is a son in the well-known, iconic billionaire real estate Young family of Singapore. He falls in love with Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an economics professor at NYU. After Chu and Young have dated for a year, he invites her to the wedding of his best friend in Singapore. Chu has no knowledge of Young’s wealth. A bit cliché, but it works.     

A first class flight gives Chu a hint of Young’s fortune. The rest becomes a travelogue of the Far East, coupled with the family’s resistance to allow Chu into the family. She befriends an old college friend living in Singapore named Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina), who is as crazy as she is poignant. Ken Jeong (of “Hangover” movie fame), plays her father and delivers one of the great lines in the film. When Chu, Goh and family are feasting at the dinner table, Jeong reminds the smaller children to, “Eat your nuggets! There are little kids starving in America!”      

Based on a Kevin Kwan novel, the remainder of the film deals with Young’s extended family rejecting Chu as a “Chinese American.” Yeoh and Wu play through the remaining scenes with great aplomb and ease. While other family dramas play out, it is whether Chu gets her man and Nick Young gets his woman that becomes the focal point. 

In a nod to Asian customs, there is a montage tribute to social media and some wonderful animation. The soundtrack is outstanding, with a combination of classic American rock tunes, Chinese pop songs and songs combining English and Chinese vocals. It will introduce the moviegoer to songs that are reminiscent of the unfamiliar Bollywood soundtrack from the 2008 Academy Award-winning “Slumdog Millionaire.” 

The film was made for $30 million. It will gross at least three times that, and has already had a stellar opening weekend. The ending reminds one of a classic, old American romantic comedy (no spoiler here), but that is OK. 

It is great to see Hollywood deliver on a worthy comedy/drama with a cast not accustomed to being featured. “Crazy Rich Asians” should receive serious Academy Award consideration next February.