For all the – important – conversation around representation, Crazy Rich Asians’ success at the box office can be credited to its conventionality. After the (premature) death of the romantic comedy, Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel brings the genre back to life. This is a classic tale: ordinary girl – economics professor Rachel (Constance Wu) – falls for handsome prince – hotel heir Nick (Henry Golding) – but finds resistance from his stuck-up family, represented by Nick’s stern mother (Michelle Yeoh).
I’m a sucker for a good rom-com, and this certainly is one. Crazy Rich Asians is consistently entertaining, filled with good-looking people and decent jokes. Sure, there’re occasional missteps in its storytelling, but even the sub-plots that feel extraneous – like Nick’s cousin’s failing marriage – tie into the broad theme of conflict between Western-influenced individuality and the importance of the family in Asian culture.
Rather than frame Yeoh’s matriarch as a deplorable antagonist (as in Kwan’s novel, and as you’d expect from a conventional Hollywood rom-com), Chu paints her with a sympathetic brush. As a Westerner accustomed to stories about romance where parents are obstacles or proponents, the most revolutionary thing about Crazy Rich Asians is how respectfully it treats family connections.