Romantic comedy can be one of the most difficult genres to write. Sure, the ubiquity of mediocre romcoms might imply otherwise, but truly great movies in the genre are rather rare. For a good romantic comedy, the audience needs to not only care about the characters but also care about the stakes and believe that those stakes have real weight and real consequences. Over the summer, Crazy Rich Asians burst into theaters and became an immediate sensation—in equal parts because it provided much-needed representation of a group Hollywood often underrepresented and because it’s a damn good story.
Directed by Jon M. Chu and written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim from Kevin Kwan’s novel, Crazy Rich Asians, the story follows Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) who travels to her boyfriend Nick Young’s (Henry Golding) hometown in Singapore to attend his best friend’s wedding and meet his family, who are crazy-rich and also crazy. From the moment she lands, Rachel is a fish-out-of-water and constantly at-odds with her boyfriend’s family. She tries to earn their respect but comes short at every turn, and Nick’s family drives a wedge between the formerly happy couple.
What Crazy Rich Asians gets right where other romantic comedies fail is that it cares deeply about the characters, and each scene and every conflict is rooted in character. The greatest source of conflict is Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh in a brilliantly cold yet emotional performance), who disapproves of Nick and Rachel’s relationship because of Rachel’s family history. To contrast with others in the genre, there are no hijinks-heavy set pieces or interminably long scenes that don’t advance the plot, featuring “jokes” and nothing else (perhaps romantic comedy’s most common sins). Crazy Rich Asians even allows the story’s dramatic elements to take over at times, providing a moving commentary on race, class, and motherhood. (Although very funny—thanks Awkwafina!—the movie leans into dramedy more than laugh-a-minute comedy.)
Ultimately, it’s easy to see why audiences (and critics) fell in love with this film and why Warner Bros. has already greenlit adaptations of the book’s two sequels. And hopefully, the Oscars will be kinder to it than the Golden Globes.