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Crazy Rich Asians

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“Crazy Rich Asians” is about people who have it all, and the movie succeeds in having almost all on its own terms. This romantic comedy is bright, buoyant and hilarious, though far from flawless. It’s also a cultural milestone—the first major studio film since “The Joy Luck Club” almost a quarter-century ago in which an Asian filmmaker has told an Asian-American story with Asians in all of the leading roles. The result is hugely enjoyable, and hooray for Hollywood for making it happen.

The story starts in New York, where the Chinese-American heroine, Rachel Chu teaches economics at NYU—she’s played by Constance Wu. Rachel’s boyfriend is a handsome Chinese- Singaporean named Nick Young—that’s Henry Golding. He’s going back home for his best friend’s wedding, and she’s never been to Asia, so he invites her to go with him. We know what Rachel has never managed to find out—that Nick is not only charming, but Prince Charming, the scion of a fabulously wealthy family, so we’re delighted and she’s astonished when they board a commercial jet and he shows her to their in-flight suite, which is slightly smaller than a cottage.

That’s only the beginning of her astonishment. In Singapore Rachel meets Nick’s ferociously possessive mother, Eleanor, played by Michelle Yeoh, and to his extended family, and she discovers a sprawling compound of super-privilege where the very notion of excess has been annulled.

But there’s more to it than one-percenters and their glittery things.

The central conflict turns on how family is defined. For Rachel, it’s a source of sustenance; she has the unswerving love of her Chinese mother. For Nick, family is a clan to be served, and a prison he’s been trying to escape. For Nick’s mother, it’s a fortress built to repel alien invaders like Rachel, who, in Eleanor’s eyes, is a Chinese- American adventuress, and insufficiently Chinese.

The production has its faults. Several stretches show that even excess can be excessive; they’re less eye-popping than eye-glazing.

Secondary performances are sometimes clumsy, though the actor and rapper Awkwafina is terrific as Rachel’s friend from college.The script ranges from really sharp-witted to occasionally dim, as when a partygoer heckles Rachel with “Hey, Cinderella, what’s the matter, you’ve got to return your coach at midnight”?

Still, the film’s appeal transcends issues of ethnicity, identity and inclusiveness. The story is gleefully trendy and endearingly old- fashioned. Will the globalized greed of a powerful family prevail, or will true love win out in the end? And anyone with a sense of movie history will be moved by the marvelous Michelle Yeoh, who was so memorable as the love-starved fighter in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” And by 91-year-old Lisa Lu, who plays Nick’s grandmother and the matriarch of his family. Anyone, in this case, means anyone.

“Crazy Rich Asians” includes us all.

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Host:
Joe Morgenstern

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