The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Crazy Rich Asians

There have been so many bad, generic romantic comedies that the very use of that phrase is enough to make one tense up a little bit. Crazy Rich Asians, based on Kevin Kwan's novel, bucks the trend. It has no “meet-cute” between the two leads. It has zero wacky misunderstandings where the heroine discovers her boyfriend's ex putting the moves on him. There is no climactic race to prevent somebody from marrying the wrong person. Instead, the film is an observant look at the ways, both funny and dramatic, that being with someone far outside your socioeconomic class can be difficult. What a breath of fresh air.

Constance Wu (TV's Fresh Off the Boat) plays Rachel Chu, an economics professor at New York University. She accompanies boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to Singapore for his best friend's wedding. This represents a chance for her to meet Nick's family. It turns out that they are insanely rich and have no qualms whatsoever about living a lifestyle so opulent that even opulent folks might advise them to tone it down. Michelle Yeoh plays Nick's mother Eleanor, who doesn't even try to hide her disdain for the relationship. For starters, Rachel is, as she puts it, Chinese-American, not Chinese – a cardinal sin in her eyes. She also has suspicions that Rachel will lead Nick astray from the family business, which he is expected to take over.

The first hour of Crazy Rich Asians has plenty of fish-out-of-water humor, with Rachel trying to adapt to a lush lifestyle that is foreign to her. The movie has fun creating sights for her to become wide-eyed at, like Eleanor's unfathomably spacious mansion, or ways for her to say/do the wrong thing. Comedy comes in the form of her insecurity among the family's social circle, which is comprised, in part, of individuals who view her not only as an outsider, but also as someone not quite fit to walk among them.

Hour two incorporates some drama, as the conflict between Rachel and Eleanor comes to a head. The matriarch increasingly exerts her influence to drive her son and his girlfriend apart. All the themes related to wealth and elitism snap together at this point, paying off in substantive ways we don't necessarily expect. A scene in which the two women square off over a game of mahjong is especially gratifying.

Crazy Rich Asians benefits from excellent performances. Constance Wu is utterly charming, and she creates believable romantic chemistry with the equally likeable Henry Golding. Michelle Yeoh, meanwhile, walks off with the film, delivering a steely turn remarkable for the way she doesn't need to say a whole lot to convey Eleanor's deeply imposing manner. The actress does phenomenal work here.

There are a lot of characters in the movie, including Nick's cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan), who is in an unhappy marriage, and Rachel's college pal Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina), a trusted adviser in the art of assimilating with the wealthy. Those are just two; there are several others. With so many key players, Crazy Rich Asians just can't give everyone their full due in two hours. A couple potentially interesting subplots are only generally explored.

When you look at the big picture, though, more works than not. Spending time with these people, in this story, is a pleasure. Energetically directed by Jon M. Chu, Crazy Rich Asians is smartly funny, romantic without being cloying, and honest without resorting to manipulation. It rises above the tired old rom-com cliches to deliver crowd-pleasing fun.

( out of four)

Crazy Rich Asians is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language. The running time is 2 hours.

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