Originally published in Issue 22 of the Mad About Movies Newsletter
EDITOR’S NOTE: Crazy Rich Asians is headed our way this weekend and with it come extreme expectations from both industry insiders and fans alike. This film and the book on which it is based has been a big subject within my peer group, as my wife and several of our friends all read and loved the book. I haven’t read the book, but I do know the mix of excitement and dread that comes with the approaching release of an adaptation of a beloved book. With that in mind, I asked friend of the show, frequent contributor, and Crazy Rich Asians super fan Megan Spell to tell us what she loved about the book and pique our interest in the film. -BG
I was probably towards the end of the bandwagon in reading Crazy Rich Asians. My mother, who had read the book, sold me on it: love story, family drama, excess, and most pertinent to my interests, the movie was coming out later this year. This on top of an upcoming vacation, and shortly the book was added to my cart, delivered, and packed in a carry-on between a Ziploc of pistachios and a portable charger.
The book, like many other escapism beach reads, benefits from the reader’s imagination. We follow American Rachel Chu and her eponymous “crazy rich” boyfriend to the larger-than-life Singaporean society that his family and friends inhabit. The novel luxuriates in describing the fabrics and patterns of designer gowns, the clear water and white sand beaches of the beyond upper class vacations, and culminates in a multi-million-dollar wedding spanning multiple chapters. It’s nearly unfathomable to a commoner like myself, and that is what most resonated with me weeks after turning the final page.
The fun thing about reading novels that will be made into movies is that once you have finished the book, you get to spend time obsessing over whether the film adaptation will do it justice. The characters and settings in Kevin Kwan’s best seller jump off the page; could a studio capture that aesthetic? More importantly, could they even afford to? After A Wrinkle in Time earlier this year, I’ve become particularly sensitive about books I loved being poorly realized on screen.
Fortunately, not all recent adaptations have been as disastrous as the aforementioned Winfrey-Witherspoon effort. Annihilation and Ready Player Onecome to mind, both of which come from sci-fi/fantasy novels that upon reading seemed nearly impossible to translate to film with integrity. Unfortunately, studios historically have not taken the same high-dollar risk on other genres, such as the good ol’ classic romantic comedy. This isn’t to say I’m clamoring for You’ve Got Mail 2: In Space just for an excuse to spend $50 million dollars. My favorite rom-com in recent years was The Big Sick which was made with a $5 million budget. Small scale stories can be done on less money of course, but reading Crazy Rich Asians, it feels very solidly “large scale”. This would need to be pretty costly to look as expensive as the book feels.
This need for a big budget rom-com is one thing Hollywood is unaccustomed to; another is complete diversity. While this has already been wildly circulated, I believe that it is important to note that this is a story of a Singaporean family, filled with Asian characters, making it the first all Asian cast Hollywood film in 25 years. Seeing as it has been a quarter of a century, the industry has not made it evident that they are willing to invest in fully Asian stories until now, especially on such a large scale. Not only does this release represent the changing culture in Hollywood by including more unique stories, but also, presents the audience with the opportunity to see an ensemble cast of distinctive individual characters without succumbing to damaging stereotypes. A movie with this rare power carries a lot of weight on its shoulders, especially considering the undercurrent in the press being a fear of, “if this fails, it falsely proves that perhaps the audience isn’t ready to see a principally diverse film.”
So, when I started seeing the previews, with the insanely charismatic Constance Wu and Henry Golding surrounded by gratuitous fireworks, dance sequences, and a powerhouse supporting cast, I started to feel confident that this could deliver on everything I loved about the book. It may seem ridiculous to be this excited about a movie with a preview that includes synchronized swimmers and someone making it rain cash in a garage full of luxury cars, but at its core, the story is about culture, love, and family. And all that is wrapped in a colorful, diamond studded package. What more could you want?