Poor Little Rich Millennials
2 & ½ popcorns
By Michael S. Goldberger
There you are, standing on your porch, looking for either a pickup truck or a van to pull up, something a handyman might drive. It’s just a little job…the repair and painting of the front steps. Twenty minutes pass, as do numerous workmen…none of them looking for your house. ‘He said he’d be here,’ you grumble, steaming about the déjà vu of it all. More time passes. Finally, as it becomes apparent he isn’t showing, you issue the bourgeoisie lament: ‘If I were crazy rich he’d sure be here.’
I mulled this example of class-influenced helplessness following a viewing of director Jon M. Chu’s moderately entertaining “Crazy Rich Asians,” which is more a spending spree than the romantic comedy the advertisements lead you to believe. The title dramatis personae, and how they carry on in a constant celebration of their wealth and privilege, make the glittering fiefdom Gatsby created to impress Daisy look like Dogpatch. For all these moneyed folks know, the manse’s front steps are maintained by the Divinity himself.
The inherent appeal of showcasing rich people, which reached its zenith in American films during the Great Depression, is obvious. It’s the vicarious thrill of power that comes with outrageous wealth. To the adage espoused by my rich sister Ann, that “Money can’t buy you love, but it can take you to a lot of places to find it,” I’ve since conjectured, “Money gives you the luxury to worry about things more profound than front steps.”
Mr. Chu’s film, written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, pays lip service to a time honored chestnut. In a variation on the theme where one party in a stardust-sprinkled affaire de coeur is rich and the other poor in comparison, economics professor Rachel Chu, winsomely played by Constance Wu, is the saga’s Cinderella. Her handsome prince, portrayed by Henry Golding, is Nick Young, the unpretentious heir to the Singapore Youngs’s vast, global fortune.
Back in New York, when Rachel accedes to accompany her boyfriend/NYU history prof to Singapore, so he can be his childhood friend’s best man, she has no idea that he is well-heeled. Gee, I mean he exercises at some ratty gym. We are to interpolate, considering their youth and the nascent status of their relationship, that they haven’t gotten around to exchanging, besides name and favorite food, their social rank and the number of digits vaunted in their checkbook.
The first hint comes at the airport, where Nick has upgraded their coach seats to Reason for Revolution Luxury. Whoopee! He’s such a dashing sort, a Chinese Cary Grant in looks if not suavity and wit…and oh so kind and polished. Maybe he saved coupons. However, when pressed by the economics professor, who knows her way around the Benjamins, he relents and yes, the awful truth is that he is a member of a wealthy real estate family. He doesn’t embellish, leaving out the near royal esteem in which his family is held.
They arrive in Singapore, our unassuming beauty soon the subject of rampant rumor and scrutinization. It dawns on me that I was lucky. My mom’s storybook counsel, part idealistic and perhaps part social welfare plan, was, “Marry a poor, beautiful girl.” Heeding the beauty part, I felt no option but to forgive my better half’s middle class status. But remember those old yentas who liked to cynically cluck the unromantic advisory, “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich girl (or boy) as a poor one.” That’s the mantra to which Nick’s stern mater, Eleanor, subscribes.
Bereft of a quixotic advocate, his quandary is: To be happy but cut out of the will, or to drive a Ferrari and forever bemoan what might have been. Hmm. Thus we are left to wondering, in a scenario otherwise obsessed with displaying how even Singapore’s Old Money likes to conspicuously consume, whether or not love does indeed conquer all. So, despite the soap opera sensibilities and uninspired, storyboard direction, our inner fantasist dictates that we must hang in there to see if fairy tale wins out over fiscal sense.
It’s the uniqueness in era and demographics that can make a new iteration of the same romantic conundrum a welcome update. I suspect there’s a cave wall that recounts the first such fable, of how Ooga, daughter of Bim and Glough, had a star-crossed love affair with Leo, son of Bertha and Oop, who considered fire and cooking meat to be sheer kleglach (sacrilege). And, they painted their own steps. Pity is, though Rachel and Nick’s predicament does a gossipy delve into the culture of “Crazy Rich Asians,” it fails to deliver the sociological insight the title implies.
“Crazy Rich Asians,” rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Jon M. Chu and stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh. Running time: 120 minutes