A simple story with a strong theme that works by the end DESPITE poor acting, poor directing, and poor filmmakers, financially underfunded.
If I had to rate it fresh or not, I’d say not. It’s a tried-and-true poor American immigrant vs rich old-money elite story with a token Asian wrapper. However, some stories just work because of their timeless themes. This was true with Crazy Rich Asian. There are enough reason to roll your eyes and change the channel on this film, but if you’re held captive, it can deliver on the most important of its promises but virtually nothing else.
It’s not the film I want to remember as the beginning of the Asian-American film-making renaissance. But it certainly tries to play the role.
If you can start the film 40 minutes into the film, you wouldn’t be any worse off. In fact, you might like the film more.
The first part is supposed to be the fun and funny part of the film as it tries to be hip and funny as it introduces the characters and inciting incident: our female lead is being brought to Shanghai by her unbeknownst-to-her billionaire boyfriend. Unfortunately, the leads were cast for their ability to cry, not their ability to be lead, i.e. be charismatic, and the support characters were over-actors and gimmicky, akin to theater 101 actors. That combination hampered much of the film, but fortunately, the over-bearing mother’s theater 301 acting was enough to deliver some poignant moments by the end of the film.
As for plot and tension, it’s completely low-stakes, and unmotivated for the entire first half. It’s predictable and recognizable almost immediately after the inciting incident, as you watch the filmmakers check off the boxes of the genre in the most boring ways possible, despite trying their hardest. Then when you’re introduced to the opulence of their estate, it’s notably expensive-AirBnB unimpressive. And when finally introduced to the primary villain: the rich mother, she is entirely underwhelming. It doesn’t help that, unlike the book where the mom avoids the girlfriend for several more scenes, in the film the judgmental mother meets the girlfriend close to the beginning of the second act, and only shows inklings of disdain through a fairly cordial initial meeting.
The thing I like most about the film is the ending, which I’m told is not in the book, which seemed to be written as a tragedy or cliffhanger. This film was Hollywood-ified the book into a romantic comedy, in that the lovers get what they want in the end. But more importantly, they did it with the classic beat of a proper tragedy, and found a creative hopeful conclusion in a purely American theme of the story. Without spoiling the end, the American half of the conflict wins: freedom to chase your dreams and taking the risk to chart your own course in life.
Other notable likings were Ken Jeong (who got the first real laugh from the audience about 40 minutes into the film) in his first scene, Awkwafina’s portrayal of the friend with clearly improvised lines and snappy American wit, and the wedding scene, complete with staging and music.
In conclusion, I feel the story was indie-level simple, it had sub-student-film level acting and production value, but the new ending was expert level clever and helped make the film work. But overall, I don’t feel it should be rewarded as anything better than a made-for-TV movie. To recommend this film, unfortunately, feels like treating the filmmakers with an affirmative action -style tip of the hat. It’s no better than a B or C level Lifetime made-for-TV movie.
Let’s put it this way, an Asian-american coworker didn’t seem to like it though she read the book too. That said, I did cry because the universal conflict at hand was real enough to feel the tragedy of the struggle before the fight for the win.