Has a movie title ever doubled better as its own elevator pitch? It’s all there in those three words: Mad money, bad behavior, a pin dropped on race and place. And if Asians really only grazes true Crazy, the movie is still a deliriously glossy, globe-trotting trifle — two hours of romantic fantasy and real-estate porn poured on so thick it’s almost lickable.
The plot is as old as time, or at least as old as the pilot episode of a solid prime-time soap opera: A regular New York girl (Constance Wu) falls for a quintessential Prince Charming (Henry Golding) whose family, she finds out on their way to a wedding in his Singapore hometown, is something adjacent to actual royalty. His dynastic wealth is a pleasant if disorienting surprise; the withering disapproval of his friends and relatives, less fun.
So far, so CW. What makes it feel fresh, of course, is context: the mere fact of a major studio release completely rooted in Asian characters and settings. And in a movie generally not long on nuance, those facts still matter — both onscreen and in the much bigger sense of what kinds of stories Hollywood chooses to present to the world.
Wu’s Rachel Chu should be considered a catch for any nice boy with a business degree. She’s a pretty, witty specialist in Game Theory at NYU; why wouldn’t Nick’s relatives love her? (“I’m so Chinese,” she insists, “I’m an economics professor with lactose intolerance!”) But to his forbidding mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), and the scheming debutantes still angling for their chance to be the next Mrs. Young, she’s a clueless, ambitious American, an unpedigreed puppy they just want to send back to the pound.
The only real ally Rachel has in this socially booby-trapped city is an old college friend, Goh Peik Lin (rapper turned actress Awkwafina, who sparks like a bleached-blond party popper every time she’s onscreen). Peik Lin’s sprawling McMansion and luxe pajama life nominally puts her in the Youngs’ rarified world, but she and her family (including a great, rude Ken Jeong) are still considered outsiders too, their money too gauchely new.
Not that gauche is a bad word here: The movie’s seams nearly split with decadent set pieces, from the private islands and hired helicopters of a seven-figure bachelor-bachelorette party to the inevitable makeover montage, and a Midsummers’ Night-themed wedding straight out of Oligarchs Monthly.
The cast is packed to capacity too, though Gemma Chan (AMC’s Humans) offers a welcome respite from the high-society vipers’ nest as Nick’s beloved cousin Astrid, a sad-eyed goddess whose marriage to her merely mortal husband is on the rocks, and who offers Rachel something like solidarity; she’s affectingly lovely, even if her side plot’s not much.
Wu (Fresh Off the Boat) brings Rachel to life with her bright, bird-like energy and tart line deliveries. (Why, she wonders wryly, did her secret-billionaire boyfriend borrow her Netflix password and have a Jamba Juice card?) Golding is gorgeous to look at, but his character never feels like more than a wishful work of fiction: a catalog-model dream with the body of a Singaporean James Bond and the soul of a baby-seal rescue committee.
Director Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2) never lets you doubt for a moment that Rachel and Nick will find their happily ever after, or that the choice between love and money is one either of them will actually have to make. If the storyline is strictly something old and borrowed, though, a peek at the crazy-rich rainbow of Asian experience — even one as razzle-dazzlingly too-much as this one — feels not just new, but way overdue. B