‘Crazy Rich Asians’ – a movie with an all-Asian cast that’s filled with clichés

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

What makes “Crazy Rich Asians” special?

Why, the all-Asian cast, which hasn’t happened since 1993’s “The Joy Luck Club.” (By the way, a far better movie)

What makes “Crazy Rich Asians” not special?

Crazy Rich Asians"

A movie poster of “Crazy Rich Asians”

Everything else. The plot, the characters, the dialogue….

With its putrid petri dish of obnoxious gender stereotypes, this thing could’ve been released in 1961.

Rachel (Constance Wu) is a bright young Chinese-American who teaches economics at NYU. She’s also nice, funny, adorably human. Perhaps someday someone will make a decent movie about her.

She’s also in a relationship with Nick (Henry Golding) who is nice enough, funny enough, human enough. He is also Chinese Chinese, i.e., not brought up on America, which, we soon learn, makes a difference. As does the little matter of his family wealth, which, well, puts him in the Crazy Rich Asian tax bracket.

But to begin with, things are going swell. “What about us taking an adventure East,” he suggests one evening.

“Like Queens?” she asks.

“Further east,” he answers.

Waaaay further east.

Try Singapore where he grew up and he’s been asked to be best man at his oldest friend’s wedding.

Happily (as it happens), Rachel’s college bestie, Goh Peik Lin (rapper Awkwafina who was 1,000 times better in “Ocean’s 8”) also lives in Singapore.

Less happily, so does Nick’s extended family, ruled over by his dominating mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) who takes one look at Rachel and, well, isn’t amused.  Neither is the small flotilla of would-be Mrs. Nicks, all of whom behave like Mean Girls, Yellow Peril Division (Sorry, but the movie does deal in this level of cliché).

So there is stress and strain and hurt feelings and misunderstandings and even a Say Yes To The Dress segment. The only sympathetic characters (aside from Rachel) are Nick’s gay relative who, by now, is such an insulting cliché that, even though he’s presented sympathetically, he makes your teeth hurt, and Awkwafina who, as one person says, came back from four years in America as “Asian Ellen” (as in DeGeneres).

"Crazy Rich Asians"

A scene from “Crazy Rich Asians”

The movie has that built-in “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” allure (RIP, Robin Leach), but that can only take you so far. Though it tries to tsk-tsk so much lavish display, the movie also revels in it. It’s that kind of picture.

As for the cast, though she doesn’t make a false step, Wu is nonetheless totally wasted.  So is Yeoh. One of the most elegant and charismatic actors around (remember “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), she’s been reduced to a clumsy Dragon Lady cliché.

Conspicuous consumption with a dollop of old-fashioned (very old-fashioned) romance has almost always worked at the movies. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it except…well…except…that it’s so damn stupid. And annoying. And, well, retro (and not in a nice way).

Part of me drifted through “Crazy Rich Asians” almost in an opium dream. Ah, isn’t that pretty. Ah, isn’t she pretty. Ah…. But then something in me would wake up, and I’d find myself going, Ah…isn’t that….wrong? And maybe just a bit icky?

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

3 replies
  1. David Carlton says:

    This crappy review couldn’t be further off the mark This movie was great fun. Sensory overload all done pretty much tongue-in-cheek. This is a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, unlike the “movie critic” above who seems to have had someone piss in her cherrios.Report

    Reply
  2. Ken Potuss says:

    I found the movie fun and entertaining, with a lot of heart. Based on the reviews and box office returns, evidently so do over 90% of all viewers. I am not sure why your review is so off base but I assume you might not be too exposed to contemporary Asian/Asian American culture? “Yellow Peril”, “Opium” are the immediate main images that comes to your mind? Really?Report

    Reply
  3. Dana Starr says:

    This review is spot on. The movie was so boring, predictable, and trite. It was basically Pretty in Pink . . . just change the wedding scene to a high school prom and it’s the same plot and even the same characters. Same fish-out-of-water female lead characters in both movies. Same attractive, rich male lead in both movies. Same plucky single parents raising a daughter in both movies. Same stuck up, rich, haughty friends who hate female lead in both movies. Same fashion reveal in both movies . . . one in a pink gown and the other in a blue gown. Same kooky, weirdly dressed friend who helps female lead with her wardrobe in both movies. Etc. Etc. Etc.Report

    Reply

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