Crazy Rich Asians Early Reviews: Could this 100% Fresh Flick Save the Rom-Com?

Plus, first thoughts on its landmark place in Hollywood history.

by | August 9, 2018 | Comments

(Photo by © Warner Bros.)

Meet Crazy Rich Asians, the film with more baggage and built-in expectations than just about any this year (and yes, we’re including Infinity War). CRA has to satisfy fans of Kevin Kwan’s insanely popular book series. CRA has to save the rom-com, a genre which has been flailing on the big screen – if not on Netflix – for quite some time now. And CRA arrives with a huge burden of representation: It is the first wide release with an Asian-American lead cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. Hopes, expectations, and even fears, are high – fairly or otherwise.

If early reviews are anything to go by, Crazy Rich Asians is set to deliver on a number of fronts. The embargo broke this Wednesday, a week out from the movie’s release on August 15, and with 34 reviews counted, it is sitting at 100% on the Tomatometer [Updated August 13]. Critics are talking breathlessly about the extravagance of Jon M. Chu’s film – costumes! beaches! wealthy parties! – and incisively about the film’s representational burden. But most of all they’re saying that the movie, which stars Fresh Off the Boat breakout star Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, “it” guy Henry Golding, and features Ocean’s 8 scene-stealer Awkwafina, is an A-plus example of old-school unironic rom-coms. Here’s a breakdown of first reactions.

Will Rom-Com Fans Love It?

“Ultimately, the film delivers as a blockbuster romantic comedy: It’s joyous, decadent, and yes, extremely predictable. But seeing new characters inhabit and thrive within a story we’ve seen countless times before is a major achievement in itself.” – Anne Cohen, Refinery29

“What makes it so genuinely uplifting, however, is the establishment of the central relationship as a union between partners determined to remain on equal footing, far more concerned with each other’s mutual happiness than with all the wealth and luxury that stands between them.” – David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

“If you have ever seen a rom-com, you will figure out where this is going, and Crazy Rich Asians happily goes there, full of all the best staples of the genre: a sassy best friend (the hilarious Awkwafina, stealing the movie with her delivery of “Daaaamn, Rachel”), an insanely over-the-top wedding scene (involving a water aisle, for heaven’s sake), and loads of moments in which someone has a crisis while wearing a fabulous outfit.” – Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times

How Does It Compare to the Books?

(Photo by © Warner Bros.)

“Fans of Kwan’s books will not be disappointed by Chu’s adaptation, as Crazy Rich Asians lovingly brings to life some of the novel’s standout scenes, even as Chiarelli and Lim’s screenplay snips away subplots that detract from Rachel’s journey.” – Kate Erbland, IndieWire

“The movie is less satirical in tone than Kwan’s novel; as a result it has the necessary depth of feeling to make us root for the beleaguered lovebirds to beat the odds and make a go of it.” – David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

“The tart tone has been replaced with a sweeter, more rom-com-friendly one, and my own favorite character, the glamorous Astrid (Gemma Chan), has been given so little screen time that you wonder why she’s even there at all.” – Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times

Is It As Visually Stunning as the trailer?

“[Chu] and cinematographer Vanja Cernjul nail the porcelain elegance and the gilded vulgarity that often define obscene wealth, whether they’re framing the lovely green-walled interiors of the Young family homestead or turning a gaudy wedding reception into a Baz Luhrmann hallucination.” – Justin Chang, LA Times

The “Rich” Opulence: Should I Indulge or is it Problematic?

“…like so much subject matter that’s seen an uphill battle in getting its time in the mainstream limelight — BDSM sex, for instance — it’s clear nobody had faith in a fluffy rom-com about the lives and loves of Asian people going down smoothly without a heaping spoonful of affluence porn.” – Emily Yoshida, Vulture

Crazy Rich Asians is novel for being an American studio movie that shows us a different horror of excess. But it’s still excess, and the movie’s wan barbs are not enough to counter all the celebration. The film gives you the odd opportunity to feel swoony and gross at the same time, carried away by the lavishness while also knowing it’s wrong.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“Hollywood stories about the immigrant experience so often focus on poverty, and the struggle to build up the American dream from nothing (usually with the help of a well-meaning white character). But there’s no pity here, only aspiration, and it’s a refreshing perspective.” – Anne Cohen, Refinery29

“It’s a sybaritic celebration of high-end travel, food, architecture, decor and fashion, but it somehow eschews the vulgarity of conspicuous consumerism. There’s flashy excess aplenty, but at the story’s core, Trumpian ostentation takes a backseat to proud tradition, family honor, friendship and, most of all, love.” – David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

 Who Steals the Show?

(Photo by © Warner Bros.)

“[Constance Wu] and Awkwafina — used to stellar effect here, more or less stealing the film — are a fine pair of outsiders making the rounds at a party in Nick’s childhood home; Rachel is bemused and terrified while Paik Lin gawks and takes selfies.” – Emily Yoshida, Vulture

“Wu and Yeoh are perfectly cast in this at-odds relationship, and share crackling chemistry that often threatens to overshadow the romantic relationship they’re fighting over.” – Anne Cohen, Refinery29

“Rachel is about to be fed to the sharks, and Wu’s buoyant, bright-eyed performance makes her impossible not to root for, especially as the inevitable unfolds on screen.” – Kate Erbland, IndieWire

How Does it Stand as a Landmark Film?

“Images and ideas matter; so do sounds and smells, textures and politics. I can’t remember the last time Hollywood produced a Cinderella fantasy with a mouth-watering foodie montage at an open-air hawker market, or a makeover sequence scored to a Cantopop cover of ‘Material Girl.’ These may be incidental pleasures, but they’re no less significant than the movie’s distinct emphasis on family, as we see when the Youngs gather to make dumplings together, in a scene that brings the central dramatic tension painfully to the fore.” – Justin Chang, LA Times

“But Crazy Rich Asians has also been greeted as an exciting, if distressingly rare, event. Watching the film and its lively ensemble, one gets frustrated thinking of all the time Hollywood has spent saying it would hire diversely if only it could find the talent. If I may gesture broadly at this film.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“Studio films with minority leads tend to downplay the impact of the culture they bring with them… Not here — from Brian Tyler’s score, which takes pop songs — most memorably Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’ — and gives them a Chinese instrumental twist, to a cast the director has called ‘the Avengers of f–king [Asian] actors,’ the entire film heavily leans into its specificity with a zest that’s infectious. Crazy Rich Asians is here to celebrate in a big way.” – Anne Cohen, Refinery29

Crazy Rich Asians is in theaters August 15

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